As restaurants see sales plummet amid the coronavirus outbreak, Wingstop is one of the rare brands that is still bringing in more money than ever before.

On Tuesday, the chicken wing chain reported that same-store sales in the US grew 9.9% in the first quarter.

While growth slowed in March as people self-isolated in their homes, domestic same-store sales were still up 8.6% from February 23 to March 28. In the last two weeks of that period, sales began to once again accelerate, with Wingstop reporting same-store sales growth of 8.9% from March 15 to March 28.

Analysts predicted that Wingstop would be well-positioned for the coronavirus pandemic, with carry-out and delivery making up roughly 80% of sales before COVID-19 began spreading throughout the US.

"Off-premise dining has historically been one of our differentiators and the Wingstop team is humbled by the trust our guests have placed in us as we continue to serve during this challenging time," CEO Charlie Morrison said in an open letter on Tuesday.

Wingstop rolled out a free delivery promotion, which the chain extended until the end of April. While the overall number of transactions has slightly declined with the loss of dine-in customers, Morrison said that people are spending more per order as they purchase meals for the entire family.

The chicken chain also said it had a "bit of good fortune" with excess chicken wing supply as the cancellation of March Madness drove down wing prices. Wingstop rolled out a new incentive plan for workers, which could provide up to $150 per week for full-time in-store workers.

Wingstop is a rare restaurant that's thriving as others face massive sales declines

Olive Garden
Olive Garden
Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Wingstop, along with pizza chains like Domino's and Papa John's, are rare restaurants that aren't dealing with declining sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, UBS analyst Dennis Geiger predicted that up to 20% of the restaurants in the US could permanently close. Among chains, casual dining brands are seen as especially poorly positioned.

A recent Cowen note cited a call with Jordan Thaeler, founder of foot traffic tracking company WhatsBusy, who said that casual dining was down 75% in late March. For comparison, fast causal dropped 65% and fast food dropped by roughly 50%.

On Tuesday, Darden Restaurants reported that same-store sales had fallen 39.1% to date in the fourth quarter, with sales dropping by more than 70% every week for the last three weeks, compared to the same period the prior year.

Olive Garden's same-store sales were down 71% the week ending March 22, 65% the week ending March 29, and 60% the week ending April 5. The casual dining chain has been building its to-go sales, going from an average of $20,549 in to-go sales per restaurant the week of March 22 to an average of $39,133 in the most recent week.

LongHorn Steakhouse's sales have been down by 69% or more every week for the last three weeks. Darden's other brands, which include Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, and The Capital Grille, have seen same-store sales drop an average of more than 80% every week.

Darden announced on Tuesday that it would be furloughing some employees at the company's support center, as well as reducing pay for the remaining team members. Senior executives' wages will be cut by 50%, and CEO Gene Lee is forgoing his salary.

"The challenges of this unprecedented situation are far from over," Lee said in a statement on Tuesday. "However, I remain confident that the strength of our portfolio, the power of our competitive advantages and the resiliency of our people will enable us to successfully navigate our way through it."

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