Morton’s Bullish on Business Spending

Steakhouse chain sales continue to climb, even with menu price increases

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“Historically, we’ve always committed to the finest-quality beef, and our guests realize that and depend on having ‘the best steak anywhere,’” Artinian said. “Our beef’s expensive, and our center-of-the-plate items can handle it. On the flip side, we’re conscious that there are increasing costs everywhere, and we’re just happy to have the bar as a destination, too … We’ve created another profit center that’s not $100 a head. You can get away with $25, with a little bit of work, with a glass of wine and Bar Bites.”

Revenue in private-dining boardrooms also are trending positively, and private-party bookings for the critical December holiday period are up approximately 10 percent compared with the previous year, Artinian said.

Growth expected to restart in 2012

Morton’s reiterated that its only new restaurant in 2011 would be a relocated steakhouse in uptown Dallas, which reopened in February. However, domestic and international expansion is expected to resume next year.

“We have accelerated our search for new restaurant opportunities,” Artinian said. “We’ve focused on densely populated cities to expand the Morton’s brand domestically. We are actively looking for sites to build new Morton’s Steakhouses in these markets or to relocate in existing markets.”

The chain has remodeled 53 restaurants to include Bar 12-21, Artinian said, adding that bar sales have grown from 11 percent of total sales a few years ago to 15 percent of sales in the 2011 year to date.

Morton’s said its remaining 24 restaurants would either remodel or relocate, and six such locations are designated as high priorities for action soon. The next restaurant to be relocated is in Tysons Corner, Va., and Morton’s will remodel or relocate about four restaurants per year, Artinian said.

The brand’s relocation earlier this year in uptown Dallas showed a dramatic improvement, initially doubling sales volumes compared with a year earlier.

Morton’s will keep international growth focused on Asia, the company said, as locations in Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore are some of Morton’s most profitable restaurants. Late last year, Morton’s made its first foray into mainland China with a restaurant in Shanghai.

Chicago-based Morton’s operates 77 namesake steakhouses in 26 states and five foreign markets.

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