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Benihana restaurants’ profit falls 50 pct in 1Q

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Restaurant chain Benihana Inc. on Monday said its first-quarter profit fell 50 percent as it struggled to draw customers during the recession.

The company reported that it earned $1.1 million, or 5 cents per share, for the quarter that ended July 19, down from $2.2 million, or 12 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.

Total revenue grew 1.6 percent to $96 million.

The results missed Wall Street expectations. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters anticipated the company would earn 10 cents per share for the quarter on revenue of $97.3 million.

Benihana operates the nation’s largest chain of sushi and Japanese-theme restaurants and, like many restaurant companies, is struggling as consumers spend less on eating out.

CEO Richard Stockinger said the current economy is “perhaps the most difficult environment we have seen in decades.”

The company says its sales at locations open at least a year, a key indicator of a retailer’s or restaurant company’s financial health, fell 13.1 percent at Benihana Teppanyaki restaurants — the bulk of its business. Same-store sales fell 14.8 at Haru restaurants and grew 3.5 percent at the company’s RA Sushi chain.

Benihana said it is focusing on improving the quality of the food and beverages at its Benihana sites and improving guests’ perceptions so they come for both special occasions and routine dining. It also plans to cut its debt this fiscal year.

The company reiterated its profit guidance for fiscal 2010 of 40 to 45 cents per share on total sales of $305 to $310 million.

Analysts expect the company to earn 46 cents per share on revenue of $322.8 million.

Shares of Benihana fell 3 cents to close at $7.97 Monday.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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