Restaurant Brands International reported Thursday that it expects a drop in same-store sales for Tim Hortons and Burger King, but continued positive momentum for Popeyes.
The company foresees a comp sales decline in the mid-single digits for Burger King in Q1 versus the prior-year period and a low double-digit drop for Tim Hortons. The period ends March 31.
At Popeyes, RBI anticipates growth in the low 20s. The chicken brand is likely still surfing the wave created by its new chicken sandwich, which was introduced last summer. In Q4, comp sales increased 37.9 percent year-over-year. RBI CEO José Cil said during the Q4 earnings call that Popeyes was the top-trending news on Twitter and top search on Google at one point. He noted that the chicken sandwich craze led to “billions of media impressions and generated earned media worth considerably more than the size of our entire annual U.S. ad fund spend.”
In North America, nearly all units remain open, but they are restricted to drive thru, takeout, and delivery. Restaurants in Italy, Spain, France, and the U.K. have closed. In China, more than 90 percent of units are open, but comp sales are still below what they were prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
RBI expects sales to be affected even more during Q2, depending on how long state governments enforce closures of dining areas and social distancing.
“The global crisis resulting from the spread of coronavirus [COVID-19] has had a substantial impact on our global restaurant operations,” the company said in a SEC filing. “We cannot estimate the duration or negative financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our business, however, depending on the duration and scope, we expect it could be material.
RBI announced earlier that where it owns property, it will switch rent structure from fixed and variable to 100 percent variable and defer rent payments for up to 45 days. The company is also advancing cash to operators, including $70 million in North America. For employees, RBI will distribute a bonus in April to workers at company-operated stores. The company has approximately $2.5 billion in cash right now.
To ensure sanitation, RBI has made hand sanitizer available to employees and customers and sent 15,000 infrared thermometers to its brands to confirm employees are healthy when they arrive to work.