BJ's plans growth outside West

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Research has indicated that BJ’s brand awareness is still relatively low, although once guests try BJ’s, they tend to quickly become “brand advocates,” he said.

Loyalty building: A new loyalty program for BJ’s, which tests have indicated will help build both repeat visits and spending, is planned for the second quarter.

Deitchle said the program will not be like other chains, which reward repeat visits with food or drink discounts. Instead, BJ’s guests will be invited to accumulate points toward experiential rewards, like a chance to win a trip, he said.

As a casual-dining brand, a loyalty program at BJ’s is not likely to work the same way it might at a restaurant that guests visit every day. “It’s not going to have the impact that a loyalty program at Panera might have on sales and margins, but it will have an impact,” Deitchle said.

Off premise: BJ’s also is looking at catering, as well as improving online ordering and to-go business, which has dipped through the recession, Deitchle said.

To capture more take-out orders, the chain plans to test this year a call center that would interface with BJ’s point-of-sale system, “like the pizza guys do,” Deitchle said.

Off-premise sales now account for about 5.5 percent to 6 percent of total sales, he said, “but we could do better.”

Menu initiatives: BJ’s has new products in the pipeline, and recently introduced Asian-inspired dishes such as kung pao chicken and orange chicken, along with miso salmon, Thai salmon and various teriyaki options.

New lunch entrées starting at $5.95 have been added, including a chicken quesadilla and a one-topping mini pizza with salad.

The new Fan Burger line, introduced in November, has been a hit, as has a more premium ribeye steak offering, said BJ’s executive vice president and chief restaurant operations officer Wayne Jones.

Next week, the chain will roll out its second annual Seafood Celebration with such additions as a new mahi mahi dish on the lower-calorie Enlightened menu.

In addition, a menu format revamp is planned later this year with the goal of better highlighting higher-margin items.

“These are long-term investments that will help BJ’s compete for market share in the long run,” Deitchle said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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