BJ's Restaurants released fourth-quarter 2013 earnings today, reporting that restaurant sales dipped approximately 2.7 percent, compared to a 3.0 increase the same quarter a year prior, the result of the shortened holiday season and severe weather in Texas and the Ohio Valley.
Guest traffic dropped an estimated 2.3 percent, and the average guest check also took a slight hit, down 0.4 percent, which, the company notes, reflects increased discounting and higher promotional activity compared to the same quarter last year.
“The softer than expected sales, especially during what is typically the busiest month of the quarter, coupled with increased marketing spend to drive guest traffic impacted our operating margins,” says Greg Trojan, president and CEO. “However, we do expect that our guest traffic comparison for the quarter will outperform the average of our casual dining peers in the Knapp Track report. Despite the traffic headwinds, our operators did an excellent job of controlling what they could while ensuring that our guests continued to receive the high quality experience they have come to expect from BJ's."
Revenues for the period ending December 31, 2013 climbed 8.0 percent to $199.8 million year over year, fueled by a 12 percent increase in total restaurant operating weeks. Total revenues for 2013 grew 9.4 percent, to $775.1 million.
BJ’s, which currently has 147 restaurants, is looking to open 15 new locales during fiscal 2014, nine of which will be based on its 7,400-square-foot prototype, at a cost approximately $1 million less than the current prototype. In 2013 it opened 17 new restaurants—six in the fourth quarter alone—and its first in the Mid-Atlantic region, in Maryland. The company plans to extend its reach in the untapped region, working toward its goal of operating 425 BJ's restaurants domestically. It opened its second restaurant in the Mid-Atlantic area, in Virginia, in early February 2014.
To drive new opportunities, BJ’s is launching in early March new, integrated brand messaging, which will include a new menu format and more than 15 new menu items. It is also testing a mobile “pay at the table” service that allows guests to use their smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device to pay their bill at any time during the dining experience. In the second half of 2014, BJ’s will launch a mobile “order ahead” option for dine-in guests. “We believe mobile 'pay at the table' and 'order ahead' can help increase throughput and average check, and most importantly improve the overall guest experience at BJ's,” says Trojan.
By Joann Whitcher