Off-premises business has surged in recent weeks.

BJ’s Restaurants reported Friday that it’s preparing to reopen restaurants once state and local governments give permission.

“We are working intently to develop social distancing and other protocols to ensure that we deliver a safe experience for both our team members and our guests,” CEO Greg Trojan said in a statement. “We believe our large restaurants and flexible seating layout will provide us a strong advantage to take care of our guests’ needs and grow sales as we transition back to dine-in and off-premise operations.”

BJ’s has one restaurant in Tennessee, where Gov. Bill Lee said restaurants can operate at 50 percent capacity beginning Monday. In Texas—where the company has 34 units—Gov. Greg Abbott said during a radio interview Wednesday that restaurants could reopen as soon as next week.

The full-service chain said sales have improved thanks to a continual increase in off-premises business.

The company said same-store sales were down 82 percent in the week ending March 24, but have since lifted to negative 70 percent in the week ending April 21. The restaurant chain attributed the trend to weekly growth of off-premise sales in the mid-teens.

The rise in off-premises sales has been driven by traffic and average check. The upward movement of check has been supported by menu items like BJ’s Family Feast, which feeds four to six customers, and the company’s bottles of wine, margaritas to-go, and craft beer packaged in six packs and growlers.

This is how BJ’s average off-premise sales have grown each week:

  • Week ending March 17: $11,402
  • Week ending March 24: $19,458 (70.7 percent change week-over-week)
  • Week ending March 31: $21,563 (10.8 percent)
  • Week ending April 7: $24,667 (14.4 percent)
  • Week ending April 14: $27,981 (13.4 percent)
  • Week ending April 21: $31,716 (13.3 percent)

BJ’s reduced its weekly cash burn rate to $2.5 million per week, which includes $1.2 million in weekly rent payments that are either planned or under discussion for deferment or abatement. The chain said it has $70 million in cash and that it can reduce expenses even further if necessary.

“The investments we have made in the last few years in take-out, delivery and digital ordering capabilities are providing our guests with the BJ’s menu they crave during these unprecedented times,” said CEO Greg Trojan in a statement. “Our team members are successfully delivering high quality food and gold standard service that our guests have come to expect from BJ’s as we grow our take-out and delivery sales in the 205 BJ’s Restaurants which continue to operate. As a result, we continue to see strong week-over-week growth in our off-premise channel.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, BJ’s laid off 16,000 hourly employees and furloughed 200 restaurant managers and 40 Restaurant Support Center employees. The furloughed workers will receive benefits through June 30 and will be paid accrued, unused vacation and sick time. The laid-off hourly workers were given unused vacation and sick time, and those not eligible for sick pay were given emergency paid time off.

Trojan and other executives will take a 20 percent pay cut. Restaurant Support Center employees who make at least $100,000 will have their salary reduced, as well, and the board of directors will reduce its compensation for the rest of the year.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Finance, BJ's Restaurants