Subscription beer, more deals, more to come
Perhaps the biggest carrot BJ’s tossed investors in the call was an upcoming paid beer subscription. The company expects to test the program across California in the first half of 2020, Trojan said. BJ’s, which has made its own beer for 20-plus years and has five operating breweries, wouldn’t provide too many details for competitive reasons. “I think collectively we’ve probably won more significant industry quality awards than certainly any chain restaurant out there,” Trojan said. “We think we can bring some pretty unique offerings and value to our beer-loving guests.”
The company hinted at canned and bottled distribution, and possibly having some “unique creative beers” available for subscription members.
In Q3, BJ’s drove about 2.7 percent check growth. It continued to see entrée mix primarily through the success of its slow-roast platform. One of the reasons BJ’s separated from its competitive set in recent months has to do with this high-low structure.
When slow-roasted ovens hit stores in Q2 2017, it gave BJ’s the chance to balance an indulgent tier (not commonly found in casual dining) with daily deals. It’s akin in some ways to how many quick-serves leverage a barbell menu approach to attract customers and then have them ladder up. Like a dollar menu with the hopes diners might add-on or come back to try premium offerings. Wendy’s is a major proponent of this.
BJ’s has accomplished it, however, with a significant customer service element thrown in and 140-plus items on the menu.
In Q3, the brand grew that entrée mix, Trojan said, while also increasing its Brewhouse specials and happy hour incidents close to 10 percent. “As a result, our value scores improved measurably versus last year and we achieved commensurate improvements in overall recommend scores as well,” he said. “Again, we believe our continued success with these metrics speaks to our competitive strength and near and long-term positioning relative to our peers.”
For perspective, in last year’s Q3, slow-roast items saw a 16 percent rise in orders, year-over-year.
The balance BJ’s seeks is straightforward: value and quality through execution—something Trojan said resonates in casual-dining’s saturated arena. Inspiring trial through value but still growing check to offset rising costs. “I think that’s really the key,” Trojan said, “is how can you keep driving great value and deliver the experience and drive some check to offset inflation. That’s really what we’re trying to do here.”