Chuy’s is bucking the trend of raising prices to make up for current labor, supply chain, and inflation pressures, a move that runs counter to what many other restaurants are planning for the rest of the fiscal year.
CEO Steven Hislop expressed confidence in the company’s current plan for the remaining two quarters. The strategy, which includes returning staffing to 100 percent and reintroducing items that had been removed during the pandemic to streamline the menu, means Chuy’s won’t hike prices until 2022.
“We usually talk price increases once a year,” Hislop said. “It’s usually at the end of the first period of 2021 and 2022, which will be in February. And we’ll look at that, but right now we’re studying each of our markets to see what’s going on out there, but that would be the earliest. Right now, we’re going to run our restaurants with how we’re doing currently with no price increase for the rest of the year.”
Hislop added customers can expect to see the menu start to expand starting Q4 2021, with the ultimate goal of having the menu return to full strength in February 2022.
“With streamlined menu including convenient family meal and beverage kits, our guests really appreciate value in our current offerings,” Hislop said. “Looking ahead, our plan is to maintain our current menu until the end of the year. We will then slowly add back some items off menu, with a goal to return to our new menu by the middle of the first quarter of 2022.”
Staffing is a major focus for the Austin, Texas-based restaurant. Currently, Chuy’s is about 85 percent staffed, Hislop said. The CEO noted they would like that number to reach 100 percent as restaurants continue to reopen with no caps on capacity. One way Chuy’s is approaching the labor issue plaguing the industry is by deploying a management retention program. The program pays managers bonuses in the Q2 and Q3 of this year. Hislop believes this will help prevent some of the staffing issues other restaurants have faced in a post-pandemic world.
“I’d say, we’re probably two weeks from being in that 100 percent staffed on managers and we have a pipeline of over 35 managers in training currently,” the CEO said. “So, we’re looking pretty good. We’re pretty well set and we have a good plan on moving forward.”
Q2 revenue ($108.2 million) for the 95-unit chain was up 64.7 percent from the same quarter last year. Jon Howie, CFO, said this could be attributed to growth in customer traffic as dining rooms began to reopen and limits on indoor-dining-capacity were lifted; $3 million of revenue was credited to new restaurants that opened in 2021. Chuy’s opened the restaurants in Southport, Indiana, and Amarillo, Texas, with another slated for Brentwood, Tennessee, later this month.
“Although it’s still early, we currently expect to open between six to eight new restaurants in 2022,” Hislop said, “utilizing a smaller prototype that will be more efficient to operate and will allow us to better serve off-premise guests while still providing them with the same unique dining experience.”
Off-premises sales accounted for roughly 27 percent of total revenue for Q2, a sharp decline from the 61 percent figure in 2020, but still an improvement from 13 percent in Q2 2019.
Q2 same-store sales were up 60 percent compared to Q2 2020, but still remained 1.4 percent below Q2 2019 numbers.
Hislop said one of the next moves the company will make is to get back into the 13 catering markets where they had a presence pre-pandemic. With demand for catering all but eliminated during the pandemic, the restaurant will look to reestablish itself as a viable option.
“We’ll be adding those catering markets back on,” Hislop said. “The one thing that’s still not happening is obviously the demand isn’t as high as it was back in 2019 … We’ll get some up and running and then expand that specifically if everything makes sense.”
The Chuy’s CEO mentioned new marketing campaigns in the works for the chain. A combination of LTOs and new advertisement strategies can be expected to roll out during the second half of 2022.
“Probably the whole second half of 2022 you will see us, from a marketing standpoint, get a little bit more aggressive as we’re introducing these off-menu items in the fourth quarter,” he said. “You’ll see us probably do some new media with TikTok and Snapchat.”