According to Trojan, if everything went BJ’s way—continuance of outdoor patios, dividers beyond what they have planned for now, and some easing of restrictions—average capacity could rise from the mid-60s to 80 percent.
CFO Greg Levin said the additional room indoors should offset any loss in outdoor dining in the colder months, but he doesn’t expect revenue from patios to nosedive.
“A majority of our makeshift patios are here in California. There are obviously some other warmer weather states like Texas,” Levin said. “So even as we go into the winter time, we're trying to analyze patio usage from historical periods and prior years. There’s not as much of a drop off as you might think. There is a little bit of a drop off. But that $15,000 that I talked about shouldn't go down zero based on what we've seen historically.”
For the quarter, comp sales dropped 30.2 percent and revenue decreased 28.6 percent to $198.9 million. The brand achieved a positive adjusted EBITDA of roughly $6.6 million after posting a negative adjusted EBITDA of $13.7 million in Q2.
Off-premises remains in the range of $23,000 to $25,000 per week, which is nearly two and a half times pre-COVID levels. Digital ordering accounts for 80 percent of those transactions. To boost off-premises even further, BJ’s added individually portioned group meals to its catering program. The offer currently represents more than 20 percent of catering sales.
"We have significantly improved our game in this area by tapping into our technology platforms to enable easier ordering, text-based updates, and arrival notifications, along with in-restaurant improvements to physical layouts and process reengineering,” Trojan said. “With all of our progress in these channels, our goal is to keep pushing on these fronts until we are able to deliver the most convenient takeout experience possible.”
Trojan also mentioned the progress of the brand’s beer subscription service, which began testing in Northern California restaurants in early September. The CEO said he was encouraged by the high amount of engagement of members, which he believes is an early indicator of word-of-mouth awareness, minimization of defections, and ability to drive occasions.
There are no plans yet to roll out the test to new markets.
“We'll be keeping a close eye on it through the remainder of this year and be looking at that early next year in terms of timing,” Trojan said. “But we've been optimistic and think we're really well-positioned given the expertise and history that we have in craft brewing. So it's something that we're excited about.”
Regarding development, Trojan said BJ’s plans to moderately increase restaurant openings in 2021. As of now, at least two units are planned for Q2 2021.
Levin explained that the brand isn’t seeing “A” sites available yet. He said they’re coming, but still six months to 18 months away. The restaurant has also seen a backlog of construction, and Levin noted that labor, lumber, steel, and other costs haven’t come down. Despite the obstacles, BJ’s still expects to meet its long-term goal of 425 units.
“So we're taking a little bit maybe of a prudent approach here, just in regards that we think that there's going to be some great sites coming aboard and coming into our pipeline,” Levin said. “And while our pipeline is pretty full, we're also looking at what's going to be coming that just is probably, as I said, six to 18 months away. We also haven't seen necessarily like changes in the rental rates for what would consider ‘A’ locations. Definitely, ‘B’ and ‘C’ landlords are coming to us with opportunities, lower rents and those type of things. But we’re not going to give up, and making sure we pick ‘AAA' locations.”
Trojan said that while he is happy with BJ’s progress in many areas, he acknowledged that “the road to post-COVID normalcy will not be a straight line.”
But he’s confident that once the restaurant is able to return to full power, the consumers will return in big numbers.
“The will and desire to dine out, enjoying food in a social setting is one of life's real joys,” Trojan said. “We see a future where we at least gain back our previous in-restaurant dining volumes while augmenting these sales with an increased off-premise business, positioning BJ's as an even more powerful force in the casual-dining restaurant industry.”