- Red Robin president and CEO Denny Marie Post has retired from her role, the casual dining chain announced Wednesday. Board chair Pattye Moore will serve as interim CEO of Red Robin until the company names a successor. Post will serve as an advisor while the search committee looks for a CEO.
- Post's retirement follows eight years of executive leadership at the restaurant chain, and comes in the midst of a brand overhaul.
- "The board intends to move quickly on the search process as the Company continues to execute our turnaround plan in this challenging and rapidly evolving casual dining landscape," Moore said in a statement. "Our search effort will focus on identifying an external candidate who recognizes the urgency of strengthening and stabilizing our dine-in business as well as the importance of continuing our evolution to an omni-channel brand..."
Post's retirement will leave the industry, where only one-third of C-suite positions are filled by women, with only two permanent female CEOs at public restaurant companies — Cracker Barrel's Sandra B. Cochran and Cheryl Henry of Ruth's Hospitality. Bloomin' Brands' CEO Liz Smith stepped down from her position April 1.
Post has long been a champion of diversity and pay parity in the food industry, and served as president and CEO of the Women's Foodservice Forum. Forbes named Red Robin one of America's best employers for women, ranking fourth in the restaurant industry last year. Red Robin offers an employee resource group for women providing development, mentoring, networking, leadership and resources, according to Market Watch.
Given this legacy, it's possible the search committee will select a successor with similar goals.
The timing of Post's exist is less than ideal. Her retirement comes in the middle of several strategies meant to turn Red Robin's sales around. Namely, the restaurant is planning to focus on refranchising this year, which will include selling 100 locations to franchisees. As of March, 89 of its 570 units were franchised, according to Food Newsfeed. It also plans on stalling growth and won't open any new units while it focuses on improving operations, which could be an uphill battle after posting negative comp sales in the last 10 out of 12 quarters.
Mall units have been particularly troublesome for the chain compared to freestanding units, contributing to a 4.2% decline for dine-in traffic. Post said during the company's February earnings call with investors that the restaurant could end up closing units when it makes sense.
The company did boost its off-premise sales 23.2% last year and to-go and catering businesses will be a continued focus this year. Catering sales grew exponentially over the past year, reaching $11 million in 2018 compared to $1 million in 2017.
While Red Robin will likely face declines in dine-in sales similar to the overall casual dining industry, new leadership may be able to provide fresh ideas that could help turn the brand around further. But for it to maintain its reputation as a top employer for women, a CEO with a diverse background will be needed.