Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. posted a respectable third quarter Tuesday, but weak early fourth-quarter sales, coupled with a slightly less robust 2011 profit forecast, sent the chicken chain's stock down almost 7 percent in after-hours trading.

The Golden Valley-based company recorded third-quarter earnings of $8.5 million, or 47 cents per share, up 23.7 percent from the same time last year, aided by lower chicken wing costs. Wall Street was expecting 43.5 cents per share, according to forecasts compiled by Bloomberg News. Two analysts noted the company's bottom line got a boost from a lower tax rate during the quarter.

Fast-growing Buffalo Wild Wings' net revenue was $151.3 million, up 14 percent from the same time last year and above the $150.6 million forecast by analysts. Sales were driven by 24 new company-owned restaurants since the same period a year ago; a 2.6 percent increase in same-store sales at existing restaurants; and a 0.3 percent increase in franchises.

But for the first four weeks of Buffalo Wild Wings' fourth quarter, same-store sales were down 0.7 percent at company-owned outlets and down 1.7 percent at franchised restaurants, compared to respective increases of 5.9 percent and 3.8 percent a year ago.

Granted, last year's numbers were particularly strong, so they made for a tough comparison. And the company, which goes with a sports bar motif, faced significantly increased competition and discounting from peers in October.

But analysts said the anemic fourth-quarter start was a big reason Buffalo Wild Wings stock sank to $45.25 in after-hours trading, down more than $3. Earnings were released after the market closed; after-hours trading can be an indicator of next-day trading patterns.

Buffalo Wild Wings' announcement that it expects net earnings growth of 18 percent next year also likely played a role in the stock's after-hours weakness, said Larry Miller, a stock analyst at RBC Capital Markets. "The guidance for 2011 is below what they normally target. They normally target 20 percent. That will be concerning to some."

Buffalo Wild Wings, which has 708 outlets in 43 states, plans to open 15 company-owned and 17 franchised restaurants in the fourth quarter, on track to meet its 13 percent growth goal for new restaurants in 2010. It plans to open another 100 stores in 2011, another 13 percent increase.

"This is one of the great (restaurant) growth companies out there," said Mark Smith, a stock analyst at Feltl & Co.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003