As for things like menu pricing and off-premises, CEO and founder Kent Taylor said Texas Roadhouse can look back four years and see it’s up 22 percent versus some of its competitors, and that’s after doing things “the old-fashioned way, primarily.”
The traffic arrow supports that. Also, Texas Roadhouse is appreciating average-unit volumes north of $5 million and wants to get to $6 million. It’s simply going to take staff to get there, Taylor said. “We feel like we're pretty focused and doing a lot of the right things to keep our guests coming back and bring more guests in the door,” Colosi added. “So we're paying attention to the different trends in the industry, I'll tell you that. But in some ways, we've seen some of these things before, which seem to work pretty well in the short term and then maybe don't work so well in the long term.”
The company typically meets every fall and sits down with its market partners, reevaluates pricing as it looks to November/December and then makes the call. The pricing in Q2 ran about 1.3 percent, with 0.8 percent taking at the end of March and 0.3 percent in mid-December of 2017. Another 0.5 points rolled off in May.
Colosi said, following a bit of a downturn during the Great Recession, dollars per store week and profit-sharing have been “straight up” for Texas Roadhouse’s operators. “They also recognize a lot of that is supported by the great value that we have on the plate, of which pricing is a big part of that. So they are pretty protective, and they do think pretty long term,” he said. “And many of them are big believers that they'll gladly take on that challenge of driving more traffic to help offset whether it's inflation or investments in any particular line item. They're just as much of a party to keeping prices aggressive as any of us are in the room here.”
Now, whether this changes over time is a different topic. Colosi said it would be interesting to see in states where minimum wage is rising rapidly whether those operators will request higher price increases. “And I wouldn't be surprised if we took prices up a little bit. We have historically in some of those states where minimum wage went up quite a bit. So we'll see how that all shakes out, but just like we do at the more senior level, our operators, they also think very, very long term and are pretty patient.”
It’s been an evolving conversation for Texas Roadhouse following a few years of pretty significant food cost deflation, which in turn helped Texas Roadhouse ease labor inflation. Yet this year that food deflation isn’t part of the picture, and margins have felt the pressure. Over the years, Colosi said margins have bounced around a bit, averaging around 18 percent, and “that’s a good place for us,” he said. “Yes, we don’t get too bent out of shape if it falls a little bit. Nor do we want it to get too high just because maybe our prices are getting ahead of us, if you will, on the value side. So we keep watching. Obviously, there's a difference between labor and food, meaning, labor is much less cyclical. Labor generally more permanent, wage rates go up. They generally don't come down. Whereas food goes up and down. So the labor is a bit more concerning and a bit more challenging for us longer term. But we’ve dealt with it before.”
Colosi compared the climate to 2007 when federal minimum wage lifted from $5.15 to $7.25. Tip wage also hiked in some states.