BJ’s Restaurants aims to cut turnover with kitchen revamp

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The BJ’s Restaurants casual-dining chain is revamping its kitchen operations to slow employee turnover by making the back of house a less taxing place to work.

The redos are not intended to eliminate positions or cut hours, but rather to improve the work experience for teams of the current size, executives of BJ’s stressed in revealing the plan Thursday to investors. If the work is easier, they asserted,productivity and efficiency will rise along with retention.  

Those advances, in turn, will translate into faster preparation times, better-tasting food and ultimately higher sales, they continued. 

“Fundamental execution at the restaurant level never gets the credit it deserves in the complicated algorithm of growing sales,” CEO Greg Trojan told financial analysts. “But I can tell you it remains one of our top priorities.”

He and his senior team also suggested that simpler operations could facilitate the addition of new menu draws. The chain is already moving in that direction with extensions to its line of slow-roasted meats. The array will be expanded in March to include a tri-tip sirloin, and an executive mentioned in passing that pork cuts might also be added. Already on the list are prime rib, pork chops, ribs and fresh turkey breast. 

BJ’s expanded its EnLightened line of healthful entrees with the addition early this year of zucchini noodles, also known as zoodles.

Executives cited BJ’s roast meats, EnLightened offerings and bargain-priced daily Brewhouse Specials as key reasons for a 4.5% rise in the chain’s same-store sales for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 1. Comparable sales for the year climbed 5.3%. 

Few details about the planned kitchen revamp were revealed with the release of Q4 results.  The terse announcement suggested the focus would be on processes, layout and scheduling. The company took a $4 million write-off in 2018 for the replacement of convection ovens with slow roasters and a shift from conventional POS terminals to hand-held devices for servers. 

BJ’s posted a net income for 2018 of $50.1 million, a 13.5% increase from the prior year tally, on revenues of $1.12 billion, up 8.3%.



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