Thanks to five openings in 2018, the chain’s revenue rose 8.3 percent. Traffic was up 1.6 percent, which beat BJ’s competition by about 270 basis points as the brand achieved its fifth straight quarter of positive guest counts. Even more, BJ’s plans to contribute nearly $300 million in annual sales this coming year as new openings join the base. “We believe our ability to drive share, in good and challenging periods, reflects favorably on our path to make BJ's the best causal dining concept [ever] by focusing on food quality, value, service, and great guest experiences,” Trojan said, echoing a goal shared over the years by BJ’s management.
Broken down, here’s what 2018 looked like in same-store sales:
- Q4: 4.5 percent
- Q3: 6.9 percent
- Q2: 5.6 percent
- Q1: 4.2 percent
It’s worth noting that Q4 stacked on a positive 1.6 percent quarter in 2017, showing consistency in BJ’s momentum. The previous six quarters were all negative.
This past quarter did show some deceleration compared to previous periods in 2018, but that’s all relative to BJ’s own success. The 1.1 percent traffic growth, for example, was below its 2.6 percent Q3 growth. This was to be expected, though, as BJ’s lapped key growth initiatives, like delivery, slow-roasted menu, and operational efficiencies such as server tablets. And BJ's results are tepid so far in Q1, around 1–2 percent, due to extreme weather, the brand said. But that should turn as the forecast does.
In Q4, BJ’s was able to drive restaurant-level operating margin up 50 basis points to 17.2 percent and lift overall operating margin 90 basis points to 5.1 percent, surging profits. The chain, which previously said it would slow growth to focus on sales performance, debuted just one restaurant in Q4. It plans to accelerate development to seven to nine locations in 2019 from 2018’s five openings.