The slow-roast menu, happy hour specials, and the popular Brewhouse Specials—weekly promotions that change by the day and special occasions (10 loaded burgers on Wednesdays, $3.14 for mini pizzas on this year’s Pi Day for example)—are helping BJ’s drive frequency to different dayparts while improving customer satisfaction scores. Trojan noted that new Brewhouse Specials are in the works to keep the deals fresh and incremental over time. These new initiatives took months and marketing to marinate, not just from an awareness standpoint, but also from an operational one.
“… I think some of those improvements really come down to the fact that last year at this time we were rolling out a lot of initiatives. And our operators are really able to settle in, get through the learning curves, and optimize those initiatives. And when you can give better service and better food together, that's going to grow your comp sales, and I think that's what we're seeing this year in regards to our business,” president and CFO Greg Levin said in the call.
“You know I think the key is just continue to focus on the quality and the uniqueness of the food. And I feel really good about that,” Trojan added.
Another thing BJ’s did was slow down its unit development. The brand has said in the past it sees national capacity for at least 435 restaurants—and is sticking by that—but wanted to hit the brakes a bit in the interim as the labor market tightened up and BJ’s solidified its model. There were 194 units this time a year ago. BJ’s opened two restaurants—in Hagerstown, Maryland, and Albany, New York—in Q2, with the latter marking the third opening so far in 2018. BJ’s said it expects to debut one additional restaurant in each of the third and fourth quarters, giving the chain five 2018 openings.
Trojan said the slowdown has never been related to new-store performance. “It was really the challenges that the industry and we were feeling around driving traffic and comp sales in our existing base of restaurants,” he said. “And we felt strongly [about] that, and given the headwinds and turbulence we wanted our resources, most importantly our human resources, focused on our existing restaurants.”