The Restaurant Stock Menu: 3 Delicious Picks for Your Portfolio

Stocks to buy

Restaurant stocks have endured some pretty mixed performance through the first quarter 2024. Eating out, even at a local fast-food chain, is getting expensive amid scorching food price inflation and rampant price hikes. With some cheap eats-seeking consumers subtly protesting higher prices by opting to eat at home (grocery prices aren’t cheap these days), it’s up to the quick-serve restaurant firms to fire back with their value menus.

Indeed, the fast-food giants could redeem themselves as they look to offer a better value amid high inflation. Though a return of the value menu may entail a near-term margin hit, I’d argue that any consumers brought back will likely stick around once inflation is conquered for good.

Personally, inflation’s worst days are behind us, and perhaps the restaurant plays’ biggest struggles are behind us. Let’s look at three intriguing restaurant stocks that could make delicious buys in the second quarter.

Shake Shack (SHAK)

Source: Shutterstock

First up is Shake Shack (NYSE:SHAK), a delicious upscale restaurant chain that will surely draw crowds as it expands its footprint into new international markets, like Canada. Year to date, the stock’s up a scorching 45%. With various Wall Street analysts turning bullish, I’d argue it’s hard not to be interested in the mid-cap restaurant play’s recovery prospects.

It’s not just the delicious shakes that make Shake Shack a staple in any neighborhood. The chain’s burgers also stand out, perhaps above and beyond that of its peers. Unique menu items such as the white truffle burger may offer Shake Shack a slight edge as it looks to bring its expansion into overdrive.

With a new hire in former Papa John’s (NYSE:PZZA) CEO Rob Lynch, I can’t help but be enthused as Shake Shack looks to shake things up after a forgettable past few years. Mr. Lynch could make all the difference as SHAK stock pushes toward new highs.

Wendy’s (WEN)

Source: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com

Investors are probably wondering where the beef has gone with Wendy’s (NASDAQ:WEN) stock, which, like a soda left out for hours in the summer heat, has gone flat over the past five years. Despite its tasty offerings, Wendy’s just seems to lack that growth driver to get WEN stock to evolve into a winner again.

Unless you bought the stock during the 2020 market crash, odds are you’ve lost money with WEN stock. Fortunately, I see value in the name after shedding around 17% of its value over the past year. At $18 and change, the stock goes for 19.1 times trailing price-to-earnings (P/E), quite cheap for the $3.2 billion chain behind the legendary Dave’s Double and The Baconator.

One of the growth drivers Wendy’s sought to pioneer was dynamic pricing. Indeed, changing prices could be frustrating for consumers, and fans have voiced their distaste about the potential for surge pricing for burgers.

Wendy’s has faced so much negativity over its pricing strategy and other AI-driven “features” that the company publicly stated it will not “implement surge pricing.” If Wendy’s is serious about its foray into dynamic pricing, high-tech menu boards could feature discounts at non-peak times. Either way, Wendy’s should explore tech- and AI-driven features to enhance, not degrade, the customer experience. If it can, the stock could easily power higher.

McDonald’s (MCD)

Source: Vytautas Kielaitis / Shutterstock

McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) stock needs to come firing back with its value menu if it wants to move on from its latest rough quarter and 7% pullback from all-time highs. Fortunately, I think McDonald’s is on the right track, with the CEO committing to pay more “attention to affordability” moving forward. As a tech- and AI-savvy restaurant, McDonald’s has numerous options to cut consumer costs while improving upon the loyalty factor.

While I don’t see McDonald’s implementing a Wendy’s-style dynamic pricing model, I think predictive AI in its app could be key to maximizing returning business. Whether that entails deep discounts tailored to consumer tastes to win back cash-strapped consumers, a tighter relationship with Krispy Kreme (NYSE:DNUT), or bringing back the McRib prematurely, I do view McDonald’s as having many routes higher from here.

At 24.2 times trailing P/E, the stock is a magnificent value option for investors hungry for defensive gains.

On the date of publication, Joey Frenette owned shares of McDonald’s. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

Joey Frenette is a seasoned investment writer specializing in technology and consumer stocks. Contributing to the Motley Fool Canada, TipRanks, and Barchart, Joey excels in spotting mispriced stocks with long-term growth potential in a fast-paced market.

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