Servers’ use of handheld tablets, open kitchens and a new thin-crust pizza could be in the future for BJ’s Restaurants Inc. locations nationwide if tests bear out at a new research-and-development concept in Southern California.
Opened in late October, the new limited-menu variant called BJ’s Grill, in Anaheim Hills, Calif., totals 4,500 square feet, about half the size of a typical BJ’s. The venue was designed to allow BJ’s to test various operational and design components that could be rolled out or incorporated in new units in the future.
On a tour of the new facility this week, Wayne Jones, BJ’s executive vice president and chief restaurant operations officer, emphasized that the company has no immediate plans to grow BJ’s Grill as a new concept.
The smaller footprint, however, is among the elements the chain is evaluating. It could potentially open up the 113-unit brand to smaller, more urban real estate opportunities – a move that other casual-dining brands, from The Cheesecake Factory to Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, also are exploring.
One of the most noticeable aspects of BJ’s Grill is the open kitchen, separated from the 150-seat dining room by clear glass, allowing guests full visibility.
“It sends a message of cleanliness,” Jones said.
Servers at the restaurant are piloting the use of wireless hand-held tablets to take orders, which eliminates the need to stop at a separate computer terminal to place an order.
The technology improves speed of service, but also gives the server more time to attend to guests needs, Jones said. “The idea is to leverage the technology without replacing hospitality.”