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BJ’s to focus on premium casual

HUNTINGTON BEACH Calif. BJ’s Restaurants Inc. is maintaining its focus as a premium casual-dining destination with a lower average check to garner favor with consumers who are tired of older casual dinnerhouses, but still want value.

At the Cowen Consumer Conference in New York on Monday, BJ’s chief executive Jerry Deitchle said the brand will use 2010 to continue grabbing market share, through catering, a new loyalty program, additional focus on kids’ meals, and the added use of technology surrounding kitchen display systems, labor scheduling and food preparation.

The parent company to 92 restaurants, some of which include a brewery, has maintained an average check below $13 while also investing in its facilities and new restaurant design.

“Your facility is your pricing power,” Deitchle said. “In today’s environment, if you don’t have pricing power, you’re in trouble.

“A lot of [the mature dinnerhouse brands] have lost their warranty with consumers, and BJ’s opportunity is to take that market share.”

The company expects guest traffic in 2010 to remain under pressure, and post-recession same-store sales to grow between 1 percent and 3 percent annually.

Last week, BJ's reported preliminary fourth-quarter results that included a 13.4-percent rise in revenue to $112.6 million. Same-store sales declined 0.2 percent for the Dec. 29-ended quarter, compared with a 0.7-percent drop a year ago.

For the full fiscal year, BJ’s said revenue increased 14.1 percent, to $426.7 million, as the year-over-year number of restaurants grew to 92, versus 82 in fiscal 2008. Full-year same-store store sales fell 0.8 percent, compared with a decrease of 0.3 percent in 2008.

Full fourth quarter results are expected in mid-February, the company said.

BJ's said it expects to open 10 to 11 new restaurants during 2010.

Alan Liddle contributed to this report.

Contact Sarah E. Lockyer at [email protected].

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