Ever since reimagining the prototype, Texas Roadhouse’s growth sizzled. The concept serves an average of 6,000 guests per week and stores are pushing $5 million in average-unit volume. This traffic is one reason Taylor says Texas Roadhouse doesn’t view delivery through the same lens as some of its peers. “We’re on a wait typically seven days a week, so I do not need delivery to fill in the gap, because we’re already very busy,” he says.
And Texas Roadhouse has been a model of financial stability. For five-year compounded-annual growth rate, totaled revenues are up 2.1 percent. Operating income 11 percent to $186.2 million. Net income increased 13.1 percent to $131.5 million. AUVs have climbed 3.9 percent. In fact, across the board, from diluted earnings per share (13.1 percent) to average restaurant gross square feet (0.4 percent) to average sales per square foot (3.8 percent), there isn't a negative drop to be found.
The overall experience plays a leading role in this success, Taylor says. Hand-cut steaks. Warm plates. Cold salad bowls. Friendly service (line dancing), and other factors are so uniform across Texas Roadhouse’s system that it boggles some competitors and even investors. This past quarter’s industry-fronting results didn’t even shift the needle much on the stock market since Texas Roadhouse is nothing if it’s not consistent.
How the brand keeps this quality and performance legendary, as its tagline claims, is another day one detail. Texas Roadhouse’s operators put up $25,000 (the first forked up $30,000 because Taylor was low on startup cash) and get 10 percent of the store’s profits.
This partnership model, Taylor says, separates Texas Roadhouse from its competitors who don’t offer a similar deal. There’s nothing complicated here as far as why it works, and why it’s been successful for nearly three decades.
“Every other concept shows you how to run a restaurant. Texas Roadhouse shows you how to own one,” Doster says.
“If you think about it, Kent wanted to serve food he was proud of. Well, the men and women running our restaurants, they have that same mentality,” he adds. “They want the restaurant clean. They want to serve food they’re proud of. They can create their own paycheck in a sense the more successful they are.”
Texas Roadhouse won’t shift on its principles. Each unit hires 170–200 people, making it a very high labor operation.
In this past fiscal year, labor as a percentage of restaurant sales was 135 basis points higher than the prior-year period and total labor dollars per store week grew 9.5 percent, and the company is expecting mid-single-digit labor inflation in 2018.
Doster says Texas Roadhouse is looking at some ways to ease the burden, but, for the most part, it’s just a side effect of their success. And working at Texas Roadhouse is definitely an experience unlike many others in the restaurant game.
For example, line dancing started in Ashland, Kentucky, and has morphed into one of the chain’s signature traits. Texas Roadhouse even hosts a line-dancing competition each year for its restaurants, where the winners come to Louisville and receive rock-star treatment. It’s the same with meat cutters. Every year, the brand’s top meat cutter takes home a $20,000 bonus.
“So all of this stuff just kind of bubbles up and I think that’s one of the things that’s attractive about working with us,” Doster says. “Kent always says happy employees make happy guests make happy accountants.”
Texas Roadhouse has never had to shed the stodgy, velvet booth image so many steakhouses grapple with. Taylor understood the importance of ambiance from the outset. Texas Roadhouse sets the tone with music and a family-first atmosphere where guests can come, be loud, laugh, and never worry about stealing a glare from the pretentious couple cutting through steaks and silence at the nearby corner booth. It’s another reason Taylor doesn’t want the typical guest ordering steaks to their couch. Texas Roadhouse isn’t eager to dilute its brand or misrepresent itself.
“You can’t package the service element and the atmosphere element into a bag that delivers to your door,” Taylor says. “The folks that are talking about delivery have potentially given up on having full restaurants inside.”
Texas Roadhouse, which went public in 2004, opened seven company restaurants in the fourth quarter and two international franchise units. For the year, the brand debuted 27 company stores, four Bubba’s 33s, and five franchised restaurants, including four international. It is on target to open about 30 company restaurants in 2018, including up to seven Bubba’s 33s. The brand is looking at as many as six new international locations this year, including its first unit in Mexico.
Looking ahead, the international aspect is one that excites Taylor. He says they’ve gone about it slower than some since they’re only interested in markets capable of hosting 10-plus Texas Roadhouses. And Bubba’s 33, of which there are 20 corporate stores, Taylor says the company is ready to inject superior service and food into the sports-bar arena.
But regardless of which initiative you focus on, Taylor will approach the task with the same care as those days when he had more ambition than cash in his pockets. And, hey, if you’re interested in joining the ride, chances are he’s still carrying a proposal or two around.