BJ's bets on a different casual-dining draw

BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, Boulder, Colorado

While the rest of casual dining tries to crack takeout and delivery, BJ’s Restaurants is embracing a singular and potentially concept-changing innovation as its booster rocket.

The broad-menu brand has just outfitted all of its restaurants with all-roasting ovens, ahead of the original schedule. The kitchen change will enable BJ’s to offer such new menu items as prime rib, a double bone-in pork chop, turkeys and pork roasts. Several of the items, including the turkey and pork, will yield not only new dinner entrees but also upscale sandwiches as well.

In tests, the items have been ordered more than pizza, a signature of BJ’s.

The draw isn’t the low price; a prime rib entree, offered solely for Friday and Saturday night dinners and as an all-day option on Sunday, was priced at $26.95. Yet the item is already one of the chain’s top three sellers, even without any marketing support, executives say with considerable marvel.

“Over time, these items present us with a great opportunity to build guest check and traffic,” CEO Greg Trojan told investment analysts. “Their quality and value will build repeat visits as they are truly unique in our [market].”

The added plus, according to Trojan: The slow-roasted items “are actually simpler to execute than many of our multiingredient, multistep-preparation items on our menu and very consistent with our project of continuing to simplify our kitchen process and procedures.” The chain has trimmed its bill of fare from nearly 200 options to about 120.

Now that the ovens have been installed chainwide, BJ’s is calling attention to the new roasted selections through menu callouts.

It also pledged to develop more slow-roasted selections.

The cost of the installations was not revealed.

Meanwhile, the chain isn’t neglecting delivery and takeout, the new must-have services for casual operations. Headquarters is “entirely reworking” its takeout packaging and larger party-sized catering operations, while continuing to experiment with third-party deliverers, Trojan said.

The 192-unit chain has suffered along with the rest of the casual-dining segment from a slowdown in traffic and sales. BJ's first-quarter same-store sales slipped 1.3%.

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