BJ’s will roll out its next general menu in February, which is when the brand expects to evaluate prices again. It would rather see supply chains begin to normalize, gain a better understanding of where labor is tracking, and then take the appropriate pricing in order to maintain leverage, Levin said.
In July, BJ’s jumped 2.5 percent in pricing, marking the higher end of the brand’s rounds, but still below inflationary levels. The brand plans to take 1.4 percent more in the coming weeks amid increased food costs.
Off-premises sales continue to be an integral aspect of BJ’s recovery. With an additional boost outside the four walls along with staffing improvements, Levin feels confident BJ’s has the ability and opportunity to get back to more historic margins.
“I think as our country works through some of these supply chain bottlenecks and we get back to a more even business, so to speak, or more settled footing on the economy, I have no doubt that we can continue to leverage our business and move it forward to historic margins,” Levin said.
His confidence stems from a few factors. During a project that spanned several interviews with BJ’s best guests, Levin said customers raved about BJ’s “gold standard level of service” and its “value and breadth”
“Our most valuable guests view BJ's as an escape from their ordinary day, and they come to BJ's for all types of social dining occasions,” Levin said. “Armed with a deeper appreciation of our best guests and our attributes that attract them, we can more effectively target and drive even more brand affinity and traffic to our restaurants.”
In the first week of October, sales were down 3 or 4 percent relative to 2019. But last week, BJ’s finished with positive comp sales at 0.2 percent, and weekly sales ticked back up into the $105,000 to $106,000 range. This is noteworthy because October is generally BJ’s lowest weekly sales period of the fourth quarter.
Levin expects this to trend upward as BJ’s hires more people and customers return to dining rooms, assuming a new variant of COVID does not rear its head. He predicts labor inflation to still be in the mid- to high-single digits, although it seems to be abating a bit.
There’s reason for optimism, he says. Earlier in the year, applicants would book interviews and never show up. Now there’s significantly more interest.
“We're seeing people show up,” Levin says. “We're seeing people really want a job and come back, and we're also seeing higher retention rates or lower turnover going into September and October across the board.”
Still, there are difficulties in even bringing on these new employees. If BJ’s is down 30 people in one restaurant, the new staff can’t all be trained in one week. Only a maximum of six or seven people can be trained at one time, per restaurant. And compared to Q3 in 2019, training and overtime hours impacted labor by 70 basis points. Still, as BJ’s continues to add more team members, the company expects the additional labor costs to be offset by increasing profits from sales fully staffed restaurants drive.