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BJ's Restaurants Inc  (NASDAQ:BJRI)
Q3 2018 Earnings Conference Call
Oct. 30, 2018, 5:00 p.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Operator

Please standby. Good day, everyone, and welcome to the BJ's Restaurants' Third Quarter 2018 Earnings Release and Conference Call. Today's conference call is being recorded.

At this time, I'd like to turn it over to Greg Trojan, Chief Executive Officer. Please go ahead, sir.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, operator. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to BJ's Restaurants' fiscal 2018 third quarter investor conference call and webcast. I'm Greg Trojan, BJ's Chief Executive Officer. And joining me on the call today is Greg Levin, our President and Chief Financial Officer. We also have Greg Lynds, our Chief Development Officer; and Kevin Mayer, our Chief Marketing Officer on hand for Q&A.

After the market closed today, we released our financial results for the third quarter of fiscal 2018 which ended on Tuesday, October 2, 2018. You can view the full text of our earnings release on our website at www.bjsrestaurants.com.

Our agenda today will start with Rana Schirmer, our Director of SEC Reporting, providing our standard cautionary disclosure with respect to forward-looking statements. I'll then provide an update on our business and current initiatives, and then Greg Levin will provide a recap of the quarter and some commentary regarding the balance of fiscal 2018. After that, we'll open it up to questions.

Rana Schirmer -- Director of SEC Reporting

Thanks, Greg. Our comments on the conference call today will contain forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Forward-looking statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause the actual results, performance or achievements of the Company to be materially different from any future results, performance or achievements expressed or implied by forward-looking statements. Investors are cautioned that forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance and that undue reliance should not be placed on such statements.

Our forward-looking statements speak only as of today's date, October 30, 2018. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements or to make any other forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, unless required to do so by the securities laws. Investors are referred to the full discussion of securities -- of risks and uncertainties associated with forward-looking statements contained in the Company's filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Rana. Our sales momentum drove another quarter of exceptional market share gains and fueled strong financial performance. Third quarter 2018 comparable restaurant sales and traffic increased 6.9% and 2.6% respectively marking our highest absolute comparable sales increased in 29 quarters. BJ's third quarter sales outpaced an average of Knapp-Track and Black Box by over 500 basis points, driven primarily by our strong guest traffic levels which outpaced the industry on average by over 300 basis points.

Our broad-based third quarter operating and financial strength again reflects our ability to offer everyday great values throughout our menu which is as diverse in price points as it is in flavor profiles. Our newer simpler loyalty program, our weekday -- our weekly -- weekday Brewhouse Specials along with our lower priced happy hour offerings have worked to further enhance our strong value equation. Despite these value investments, we have been able to drive healthy check growth through the positive mix benefit of our Slow Roast menu -- menu pricing and continued moderation of our dollar off discounting activity. As a result, Q3 marked another period of outperformance versus the industry and we again generated some of the largest quarterly market share gains in our concepts history.

Our initiatives to strike a balance between higher check indulging options and value-oriented offerings while capitalizing on new delivery and takeout sales channels have driven our growth in 2018 and we expect continued progress on these fronts in the remainder of 2018 and into '19.

Our strong sales drove an impressive increase in overall profitability as we grew net income and earnings per share by approximately 84% and a 107% respectively. And that's not taking into account the effective this year's tax rate benefit, the new accounting revenue standard, and last year's charges resulting from our hurricane closures and organization restructuring, all of which Greg Levin will review in a moment.

These results are a product of our 201 restaurant teams executing at a high level and treating every guest as if they were family which is driving higher net promoter scores even as they set sales records and become increasingly proficient with new sales channels like large carryout and delivery orders all at volumes they have never seen before. As Greg will discuss in a moment, BJ's strong growth together with our ongoing productivity efforts has enabled us to leverage overhead, offset ongoing labor and other cost pressures, and improve margins and absolute profitability. We're highly optimistic that the fundamental drivers of our 2018 growth, including menu enhancements, more effective marketing and new revenue channels, will continue to drive solid top line growth in the future, as we further refine and expand on our successes.

Our product pipeline will leverage our tremendously successful enlightened category, and we have already started to invest in the expansion of our Slow Roast oven capacity to both accommodate higher sales volumes with today's product line-up and to allow the development and roll-out of other delicious protein-centric menu offerings.

Notably, our Slow Roast menu incidence levels have increased from last year's third quarter by about 16%, led by near doubling of our prime rib and double bone-in pork chop entries (ph). We set a new off-premise sales record in Q3, with orders consumed outside of our restaurants accounting for about 8.7% of our revenue compared to about 5% of our sales, a little more than a year ago. Importantly, we've only begun to leverage our menu variety through large party takeout and delivery channels, and as as such, we're confident in our prospects for driving continued sales growth in these areas. In addition, our market research is informing us that our more targeted marketing investments through our loyalty and other digital channels in combination with select increases in traditional media, primarily TV in our morally highly developed markets, are driving new levels of awareness, trial and frequency, and this of course is confirmed by our sales gains.

However, we still lag our larger mass market competitors when it comes to general awareness measures. We are confident the continued strategic marketing investments represented an important opportunity to narrow that gap and drives guest traffic. Lastly, our ability to drive overall sales by expanding our footprint is a critical advantage for our concept for years to come.

The success of our restaurant openings in 2018, our overall broad-based sales momentum, and the strength of the consumer economy provide a strong backdrop to our 2019 development thoughts. As such, we currently are targeting the opening of between seven and nine new restaurants. That said, labor availability and rising construction costs continue to be headwinds in the development arena, and we'll always proceed -- we'll proceed as we always have in terms of prioritizing the quality of our growth versus the absolute quantity.

In closing, I'd like to thank every team member across our Company for their hard work and support and executing our plans to continue to evolve our concept, to making it even more relevant in the face of constant changes in consumer needs and desires.

Now, I'll turn the call over to Greg Levin, our President and Chief Financial Officer, to go through the financial highlights of the third quarter.

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

All right. Thanks, Greg. Before I get to more commentary around our third quarter and some thoughts regarding the remainder of the year, let me quickly reconcile the earnings per share effects of the accounting change and the tax benefit in Q3 '18 along with the hurricane and reorganization impact in last year's third quarter.

Summarizing all these impacts, in Q3 2018, we realized an $0.08 benefit to our quarterly earnings per share while in Q3 '17, earnings per share was impacted by $0.04. Adjusted for these factors, earnings per share in Q3 '18 is $0.31 and rose a 107% from a pro forma EPS of $0.15 in Q3 '17, and that's compared to our GAAP earnings per share of $0.39, and the growth rate of 254%.

As a reminder, in last year's Q3, we recorded a $1.3 million in pre-tax expenses or a $0.04 diluted net income charge related to Hurricane Harvey and Irma, as well as severance related expenses resulting from a reorganization of the Company's restaurant support center. In Q3 '18, we had a net tax benefit of $1.4 million. This benefit was primarily related to stock option exercises which amounted to an excess tax benefit of $1.7 million or $0.08 on a per share basis.

Excluding this year's benefits related to equity compensation, our annual effective tax rate would be around 10%. As previously noted, the adoption of ASU 2016-10 changed the way we account for our loyalty program, resulting in the deferral of $51,000 of Q3 revenue until those loyalty points are redeemed in the future. With three quarters of data now in hand, we expect the impact of the ASU 2016-10 to be fairly immaterial to our future revenue.

We also, like in the previous quarters, reclassified gift card breakage income on our financial statements from other income to revenue. Therefore, we recorded approximately $212,000 of gift card breakage in revenue for Q3 '18, that historically would have been recorded in other income, This is in accordance with ASU 2016-10. You'll see on our Q3 '18 income statement that our other income line shows income of $239,000 and that's compared to income of $423,000 last year's third quarter. Since this is simply a reclassification between accounts, there is no impact to net income or net income per diluted share. Please note that there is a full reconciliation of the impact of this new accounting standard in our Q3 2018 press release.

Now with housekeeping items aside, we had another very strong quarter as measured by virtually every financial metric. Total revenues increased 9.4% to $270.3 million, driven by a 6.9% growth in comparable restaurant sales and a 3.1% rise in operating weeks. As Greg Trojan mentioned, our comparable restaurant sales increase was driven by positive guest traffic of 2.6% and growth in average check further underscoring the attraction and health of the BJ's concept. From a trend perspective, every month in the quarter was solidly positive and our comparable restaurant sales strength was geographically diverse and not dependent on one or two major states or regions.

With regard to the middle of the P&L, our cost of sales was 25.4%, marking a 110 basis point decline compared to last year's third quarter. The decline reflects the combination of menu pricing and lower commodity costs, primarily in dairy, meat, and produce. Labor of 36.7% for the third quarter decreased 20 basis points from a year ago. Our strong comparable restaurant sales enabled us to leverage hourly labor despite an approximate 4.5% increase in average hourly wage for the quarter. Of note, our leverage in hourly labor was somewhat offset by higher restaurant incentive compensation reflecting our strong quarterly performance and the higher workers' compensation cost as a percent of sales.

Operating and occupancy costs increased 20 basis points to 22.6% from last year's third quarter. The rise is a result of our planned increase in marketing spending which I noted on our second quarter call in July. As such, marketing expense was approximately $6.2 million or 2.3% of sales compared to $4.6 million or approximately 1.9% of sales in last year's third quarter. Excluding the 40 basis point year-over-year increase in marketing, our strong Q3 2018 comparable restaurant sales allowed us to leverage the rest of our operating occupancy cost as a percent of sales by about 20 basis points. From a cost per week perspective, excluding marketing, operating and occupancy costs, -- excluding marketing, our operating and occupancy costs were approximately $21,100 per operating week as compared to $20,000 last year. This increase is primarily related to third-party delivery fees and higher insurance costs.

General and administrative expenses were $14.7 million, increased 10 basis points to 5.4% of sales compared to the same quarter last year. Overall, G&A expenses were lower than what we expected due to lower consulting and personnel costs.

Once again, I want to applaud our operators for their continued success in efficiently processing the increased guest levels we generated during the third quarter and throughout the year. Despite the inflationary pressures we face every day, and the fact that increased guest count results in more hours and higher costs for items such as linen and janitorial supplies, our operators increased restaurant level cash flow dollars by almost 19% on an approximate 9% revenue increase. These results are testament to the operating leverage in our model and we are extremely proud that our teams continue to deliver truly gold standard levels of operating execution while improving our already high standards for service and hospitality. Importantly, we are seeing -- we are currently seeing some of our best guest survey scores since we rolled out our net promoter score program over four-and-a-half years ago.

Our total capital expenditures for the first nine months of this year were approximately $42 million and we anticipate that gross capital expenditures for fiscal 2018 will approximate $60 million to $65 million which is slightly higher than our original forecast. This increase is primarily related to some additional sales building initiatives including our growing focus on off-premise, digital, mobile and slow-roast cooking capacity.

In terms of capital allocation, we continue using our strong cash flow from operations to successfully execute our ongoing expansion plans while maintaining an excellent balance sheet with modest leverage while returning capital to shareholders through both quarterly cash dividends and share repurchases.

During the third quarter, we've repaid probably $15 million of debt which lowered our outstanding debt balance to $95 million or about $66 million net of the $25.6 million of cash in our balance sheet. We also returned $2.4 million to shareholders through our quarterly cash dividend. In fiscal 2018 year-to-date, we returned a total of $13.8 million through the dividend payments and share repurchases, and as noted in today's earnings release, the Board just increased our dividend by approximately 9% to $0.12 per quarter.

Now before we open the call up to questions, let me spend a couple of minutes providing some commentary on our outlook for the remainder of fiscal 2018 and some preliminary thoughts on fiscal 2019. All of this commentary is subject to the risks and uncertainties associated with forward-looking statements as discussed in our filings with the SEC.

As we begin Q4, we are comping against a positive mid-2% in last year's October in both sales and traffic and we finished Q4 2017 with positive 1.6% comparable restaurant sales growth and a 0.6% increase in guest traffic. Notwithstanding the tougher comp, the initiatives we have in place as well as our marketing effectiveness and enhanced hospitality and service, continued to drive solid positive comparable restaurant sales for us quarter-to-date. We started Q4 with a Free Pizookie Day on Tuesday, October 9th, which drove double-digit comparable restaurant sales increases for us that day. While last year, our Free Pizookie Day took place during the last week of Q3 making our Q3 2018 same restaurant sales growth of 6.9% all the more impressive. So adjusting for the marketing spend, Q4 comparable restaurant sales to-date are trending in the 4% range while traffic is up in the plus 2% range. And that again is on top of a positive 2% plus growth in both sales and traffic in last year's October as I just mentioned.

With regard to restaurant operating weeks, we are looking at approximately 2,618 weeks in Q4. For those of you with models, I expect our weekly sales average change to be about 100 basis points to 150 basis points below our comp sales. And that's been a consistent pattern over the last several years.

Moving on to the rest of P&L, I expect the cost of sales to be in the mid 25% range for Q4 and labor to be in the upper 35% range. We expect marketing spend in Q4 to be around $7.3 million and that's compared to $5.9 million in last year's fourth quarter. As we noted on the Q2 call in July, part of our marketing increase is related to media production costs that we will be able to leverage over the next 12 months to 18 months as well as marketing to support the growth of our off-premise business and additional media in select markets in this fourth quarter. As such, our operating and occupancy costs in Q4 will be around the 22% range. Please remember that both labor and the operating and occupancy costs as a percent of sales are highly correlated to weekly sales averages and comparable restaurant sales growth.

G&A expenses for the fourth quarter to be in the low $15 million range, pre-opening costs should be approximately $600,000 in Q4 and that's based on one planned new restaurant opening plus some pre-opening costs for restaurants that are expected to open in early next year.

As I said earlier, I expect our tax rate in the fourth quarter to be around the 10% range which should be more in line with our annual effective rate, again this is going to be last in the discrete items.

Diluted shares outstanding should be in the 22 million range for the quarter. And then, looking ahead to 2019, we are currently finalizing our financial plan which will be presented to our Board for approval in December. So while we do not have an approved plan, let me provide you with some of Management's preliminary expectations for 2019.

We are targeting seven to nine new restaurant openings in 2019, and that's up from the five we will open this year. For modeling purposes today, I would use seven restaurants. We currently anticipate opening one new restaurant toward the end of the first quarter, and up to three restaurants in the second quarter with the remainder in the back half of next year.

Moving on to some other metrics for 2019. While we have not finalized menu pricing, promotional calendars, or new venue introductions, based on our current thinking, I would expect our average check growth to be in the 3% range next year to offset inflationary pressures. Please note that this is as of today, this is based on current expectations for commodity prices, labor rates and other inflationary factors. With regard to our very preliminary commodity basket expectations for next year, we currently anticipate the cost of our basket to rise between 1% and 1.5%. We expect to lock-in most of our commodities for 2019 over the next couple of months and we will therefore have a better idea of any commodity pressures when we report our Q4 results in February 2019. With regard to labor, we will absorb another California minimum wage increase, as well as additional minimum wage pressures in other state, and continued wage pressure due to the historically low levels of unemployment. We continue to expect wage increases in the mid-4% range for hourly positions, which is consistent with 2018. Therefore, going into 2019, I would expect that labor will be difficult cost to leverage both for us and the industry at large. And just to remind everyone, the best way to leverage labor is to drive top line sales. As we said many times at BJ's, we are sales builders first and foremost, and if we're going to air, we are going to air on the side of building sales, so that we can deliver more profit dollars to the bottom line and leverage the many fixed costs across our business. We are targeting operating and occupancy cost to be around 22% next year, and that's going to include approximately 2.3% of sales and marketing.

On the G&A line for 2019, our goal is to continue to gain leverage as we grow. Now as we have said before, a portion of our G&A is growth related, whether that is for opening teams or recruiting costs, travel or managers and training. Our income tax rate for 2019 should be in the 10% range, and we'd expect the diluted shares outstanding for 2019 will likely be somewhere in the low to mid 22 million range. Our CapEx plan for 2019 has not yet been finalized and approved by our Board of Directors. But at this time, I would anticipate growth capital expenditures for 2019 to be approximately $70 million to $80 million, and that's assuming the development of seven to nine new restaurants, maintenance capital expenditures and other sales and growth initiatives, and that's before any tenant improvement allowances or sale leaseback proceeds that we may receive. We anticipate funding our 2019 capital expenditure plan from our cash in our balance sheet, cash flow from operations, our line of credit, landlord allowances and sale leaseback proceeds.

In closing, our strong Q3 financial results mark another positive data point in BJ's quest to be the best casual dining concept ever in terms of food quality, menu value, service and unique great guest experiences. Our menu innovation, off-premise revenue channels, productivity and restaurant efficiency enhancements as well as the growing effectiveness of our marketing have allowed BJ's to consistently gain market share and outperform the industry in terms of traffic and sales trends. This focus combined with our balanced approach to new restaurant growth, prudent management of our capital structure and a return of capital initiatives, has driven top and bottom line growth and the appreciation of shareholder value. Our entire team here remains excited by the meaningful opportunity before us given our estimated national capacity for at least 425 BJ's restaurants.

That concludes our formal remarks. Operator, please open the call up for questions.

Questions and Answers:

Operator

Thank you, sir.(Operator Instructions) And we will take our first question from Matthew DiFrisco with Guggenheim Securities.

Matthew DiFrisco -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Thanks. I had a question and also just clarification, the 4% quarter-to-date comp that is the absolute number you're seeing quarter-to-date that's not reversing out anything from the promotion that you mentioned, that's inclusive of the promotion, correct?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

That excludes the promotion. That's more of our recent trends.

Matthew DiFrisco -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Okay, and you're holding that 4% and it appears. I mean that wasn't -- that seems to be a flat-ish throughout the month?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, again, now without getting into all those specifics, we pulled out that one day which saw double-digit fast increase in comp sales for Free Pizookie Day. It's -- we just got this iconic brand around the Pizookie that people like our iconic item. Pulling that out and looking at our trends, our trends tend to be kind of in the 4% plus range.

Matthew DiFrisco -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then, just a question about the regional throughout the quarter. Any regional differences that you saw as far as California. I think some people in the Malcolm Knapp numbers began to see a little bit of, it coming back to the pack after outperforming for over a year. Has that -- have you seen that as well or is it relatively flat throughout that 6% plus comp?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

California has been consistently a solid comp number for us in that regards. But we haven't seen any real change in California over that timeframe. The only thing I would say is, in general, California was not our best performing comp sales area. We've had a lot of strong areas that are doing solid comps for us.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

So Matt, it's actually been pretty consistent for us throughout, given what it looked like throughout the year or even more recently aside from the usual weather disruptions of hurricanes and weather in East Coast and Southeast a little bit, but besides that, it's been -- we haven't seen a change.

Matthew DiFrisco -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Okay. And then last question with respect, there was a comment there I think about expanding the Slow Roast. Is that going to be a meaningful expansion onto the menu. How should we view this as far as you've done a lot of work on trimming the menu and even testing maybe the smaller menu in smaller markets. How should we think about that as far as the level of expansion? Is it replacing things or is it incremental purely?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, first of all, the reason we are expanding capacity is we continue to grow sales on items that are on the menu today, as I mentioned, right? And that's -- I'd reinforce it's not because we're promoting or disproportionately marketing those products, it's word of mouth and momentum of those products. So it's to serve the capacity, increase the capacity to accommodate that growth. But we also do see a bright future for other protein-centric items that I think take advantage of that slow-roast protein -- or slow-roast cooking platform that is working so well. So you see, the reason for that investment is both of those reasons. And then, in general, we're always looking at ways to reduce complexity and continue our Project Q initiative and will balance any new product introduction with where we can and we think it's prudent trimming the menu in other places or generally keeping in balance. What we don't want to do is to have that slow roast to increasing complexity overall. So yes, you're right. But as we're adding items, we're going to look hard at maintaining the balance where we're adding, still pushing -- pushing ourselves to reduce where we can.

Matthew DiFrisco -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Great. Thank you so much.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Welcome.

Operator

(Operator Instructions) And our next question comes from Brian Bittner with Oppenheimer and Company.

Brian Bittner -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

Thanks, good afternoon, guys, a question on sales and then one on margins. On sales, just as you analyze your market share gain and you see a gap versus industry being one of the best in memory here, what real like exact pockets of your business are you seeing the most growth that's really driving this gap. Everyone seems to be seeing pretty solid off-premise growth. So what are the top two things or three things separating you from the pack here?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, we tried to lay that out in the remarks, Brian. I think it's not just one thing which gives us and it's not just one area in terms of geography. It is broad-based, but what I tried to emphasize in the early part of my remarks is fundamentally it gets down to value and delivering value and I think the balance that we've created across improving value around Brewhouse Specials, Happy Hours has been an important part of what we're doing, loyalty have all been important value addition that I think fundamentally drive traffic. And we've been able to invest in those initiatives because of the success on the other side of our menu, slow-roast initiative and other things that we've done to create guest check growth in the face -- while at the same time we've invested in that value. So, at the core, aside from the off-premise growth that I think is driving broad-based improvement in our business that the foundation of which is traffic. And so that's the best way I can answer the question. It's just not -- it's not one pocket as you described there. But it always gets back to value and execution, and it's not just price point just around, I think in today's world, where everyone is pressing the larger level of guest check growth that's basically to offset the inflationary pressures you've got -- we're -- everyone in our industry is under more pressure to provide a guest experience that's worth that guest check. And I think that -- given the concept that we have, we have the ability to drive some check growth to pay for that inflation in a way that people perceive that still has a great value.

Brian Bittner -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

Now that's a great recap. I appreciate it. Just the question on margins, you guys are doing a great job of improving your margins this year in obviously a very tough environment. So it looks like based on Greg's guidance for the fourth quarter, you'll be in that 17% range on the restaurant level margins this year. Again that's up from last year which I guess is kind of more of an investment year for you, but it was only in 2016 when you were at that 19% range. So the question is, despite all the inflation we see coming, where would you think ultimately restaurant margins can shake out for this brand as we look over the next couple of years?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes, Brian, we haven't changed our thought on moving our margins back into where they've historically been and that's something that we strive for every day in regards to looking at our business. We do know at least currently I think in the current environment with where labor inflation is, that's become a probably more challenging line when you drive some of these comp sales, you get the type of leverage or flow through all the way down to your business. But I still think as we continue to drive our business and drive people in, we'll have time and we'll have the ability to leverage the overall margins there and bring in overall more restaurant profitable dollars down to the bottom line. So when you look at both of those things, we even made a comment, I want to say a couple of quarters back that we're not looking to get our margins back right this minute, meaning we want to invest in value and drive this, this is for the long time. At 200 restaurants -- at 201 restaurants today, we've got a lot more road ahead of us and we're going to take that road ahead of us to build new restaurants and slowly continue to move our margins north.

Brian Bittner -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And the next question comes from Nicole Miller with Piper Jaffray.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Thank you, good afternoon. I may have missed this, but what was price versus mix in the quarter?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Nicole, we don't get into all our specifics on pricing because we've just seen so much movement around the Brewhouse Specials and Slow Roast et cetera. But in general, our average check pre-incident rates and stuff like that was kind of a mid-3% range.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Okay, so some partially positive mix then, right?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

I think it's kind of flattish when we look at it. What it's really -- it depends on when we look at the -- across the board, we're getting the favorable mix coming from Slow Roast, but it is generally being offset by the Brewhouse Specials. But what we're getting is people to take more items. So our incident rates are up. And our incident rates plus a little bit of discounting helps move that overall average check up. But if you took out incident rates and you took out discounting, probably kind of flattish.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Okay. And then you talked about the prior year, October being a plus 2%, were November and December the same or more difficult or easier in terms of comparisons we look forward to the remainder of this quarter?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Well, if we are plus 2% in October and we finished at 1.6% for the quarter, you get a slowdown in comps that we're obviously going to have in November and December. Not that much of a slowdown because I'd see a plus 2% to 1. 6%, not that much in all three periods last year, I mean, October and November and December were all solidly positive from the comp sales perspective.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Okay. Thanks. Thanks for doing the math for me, side of that. And then, thinking about the comp which is great, and off-premise being up, which is great. To get that comp, you clearly must have also driven in-restaurant traffic. So can you talk about lunch versus dinner weekday versus weekend, maybe there's something in beverage incident, what's driving in-restaurant traffic?

Greg Lynds -- Chief Development Officer

We we've said this before and it's been -- I think I guess the softest area for us, and that's really just in midweek lunch, has probably been softer for us. When I think about taking that aside, I think we're seeing good numbers coming out of the mid-afternoon, the late-night dinner. One of the things that makes BJ's so special, we talked about this and it's one of the reasons we have some of the best AUV's in the industry is we drive 25% of our business in the mid-afternoon and the late-night. And that's an area that's been doing well for us. I think that probably has a lot to do with the macro environment as well. People are working, there maybe they're celebrating coming a little bit more in the mid-afternoon and late-night, and we put initiatives around that whether it's our offerings in regards to alcohol or as Greg Trojan mentioned earlier, some changes that we've made to happy hours. So those have been the strength within the dining room for us, it's really been that mid-dinner and late-night, and a little bit softer at lunch time.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

And then just a last question. You have in a press release about the strength of the guest satisfaction scores. Which metrics in particular, is that around value, service, et cetera, and which is the leading indicator? Thank you.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

We think that the most powerful is the overall AMPS measure of recommended score, Nicole, and but what's driving that is improvement across all the metrics that you're mentioning. So it's not one or two of them as we look at the sub-metrics so to speak, they are all helping drive an overall improvement in the recommend score.

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Thank you.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Welcome.

Operator

And our next question comes from Alex Slagle with Jefferies.

Alexander Slagle -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Thanks, just a follow-up on Nicole's last question, if you could offer any perspective on the speed of service metrics you're seeing like dining times or time for food to get to the table, how those have sort of changed over the last year or two?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

I think of the introduction last year of handhelds has greatly improved the time for that first drink or food item to get to the table. So those order times have helped, we think the guest experience quite significantly. And we've said this before, what we haven't really seen is a change in the duration of that guest visit, which we frankly we'd love to see in all of our restaurants being as busy as they are, we could improve turns as a result of that initial speed. We'd love that, but we're not going to do that at the expense of the guest experience and it just seems like the guest wants to have a social dining experience in our restaurant and no we haven't seen material decreases in that metric for per se which is great because I mean they are ordering more. So we are seeing incident level of beverage and desserts, for example, appetizers being helped and that is helping us drive that check growth that Greg was describing as well. But not so much on the overall speed and duration of the on-premise dining experience.

Greg Lynds -- Chief Development Officer

And Alex, we said this before, that is our biggest opportunity. We've never been a fast concept with 140 plus menu items and I think the social nature of the BJ's restaurant concept would probably never will be a super fast concept. But I think as Greg Trojan mentioned, handhelds have helped and we're continuing to look at ways, specifically around Project Q that we've done before that will help to enhance the speed side of our business.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

And I'll say this -- on the other component, that particularly at lunches where we're still focused on where we think obviously speed is more important than the dinner dining occasion, but also utilizing and continuing to leverage technology and so we haven't given up on this goal of actually speeding the experience up when people want to -- but we haven't seen that yet.

Alexander Slagle -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Thanks. That makes sense and that's where -- if you could comment on some of the key markets where you feel like the density and awareness needs a boost and how you plan to address that in '19, I guess on the marketing front and also whether you plan to fill in any areas or markets from a development perspective as well?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

We're not going tip our hat too discreetly around market strategies there. But I think it goes a little bit without saying, but I'll say it anyway is, we have a lot of younger markets given the vast majority of our development over the last three, four years has been outside of our core markets, particularly California and Texas markets, and even Florida, right? So -- and we've been doing quite a bit of work this year on testing different media forms and ways to go about driving awareness in some of these newer, less dense, developed markets for us, where we can efficiently look to mass media to drive that awareness. So we are focused on I guess the next generation of local marketing and ways to do that -- realizing that it's going to be a while before those markets are seeing some of the broader marketing capabilities around mass media. And at the same time, as our sales increase and we are developing more and more scale and some of these -- I call secondary still reasonably developed markets for us is where we are able to look at digital media and slightly closer to mass media -- mediums that we're seeing some good results in those markets. So when we talk about increasing the spend in some of these selective markets, that's what we're talking about.

Alexander Slagle -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Thanks.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Mary Hoth (ph) with Baird.

Mary Hoth -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Good afternoon. Thanks for taking the question. Appreciate the outlook on the inflation for 2019, particularly on the labor line. As of now, are there any kind of productivity levers that you think that you'll be able to pull to mitigate some of those inflation pressures. Anything on labor tools or anything like that?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Mary, it's a great question and we have a couple of things that we're actually working on right now, we're not there in almost, what I would call, beta type lookouts just in the way our kitchen's arranged and see if there's things we could do a little bit better. So we're always obviously looking at our staffing tool which really rolled out this year with some changes to our staffing tool earlier this year to get a little bit more specific. Also look at our revenue channels meaning dine-in versus off-premise, but right now, going into 2019, there is not a wholesale plan there in regards to labor changes. And like as we just talked about a minute ago, where I said in the formal remarks, the best way for us to drive labor improvement frankly is driving top line sales, knowing that our net promoter scores are up is also an indicator guests like what we're doing. So as much as we all get caught up on percentages in this business, it's much easier to manage percentages while you're driving top line sales and trying to save your way to success which you can always look at it for one or two quarters, but that's about it. So that's kind of where we are right now working on a couple of things, but there's nothing that I would consider as that material that I would be putting into our initiatives for next year.

Mary Hoth -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

Makes sense, and then as you think about the puts and takes heading into next year, the inflation that you mentioned, what level of comp do you think theoretically would be needed to hold restaurant margins flat in '19?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Well, I think the way to probably look it, it's going to be a little bit similar to this year and that would be that -- if you see labor kind of going where it is, you're going to need your comps to kind of get close to maybe offsetting labor. If you see less on the operating and occupancy and less on the cost of sales, you'll get some leverage there. So you kind of got some push and pull there. You're probably looking somewhere in the mid 3s, 3 plus or so.

Mary Hoth -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

All right. Thank you. That's all for me.

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Will Slabaugh with Stephens Inc.

William Everett Slabaugh -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Yes, thank guys, congrats on the quarter. These results imply you accelerated very meaningfully from the July results that you talked about last quarter and especially since I believe the year-over-year comparisons became more difficult as the quarter went on. Did you see the incremental comp driven more by traffic as that acceleration was occurring or was it more fairly balanced as the quarter progressed? And then was there anywhere either on the menu or data or the week that really stood out for you?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

You know it was kind of looking at our numbers here, it's actually when you look at -- you look at the delta, I guess between sales and traffic, the delta is about the same coming through there, meaning as comps accelerated in the quarter which obviously happened in 89 (ph) just as a result of surmise. We got an improvement in traffic that came with it. So but they came together from that standpoint. That's probably the best I can say well from that standpoint. I don't think there was anything that specific. I probably know one area there which we didn't talk about and that is we did obviously get the benefit of lapping the hurricanes from a year ago. So similar acceleration going into the NFPA (ph) that's going to happen in Texas. I think the numbers probably proved out both on a Black Box or Knapp-Track type data. But when you take those days out from that sampling or those weeks out, we still saw the same kind of trend in our business.

William Everett Slabaugh -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. And then switching over to delivery and off-premise. Last quarter, I think you talked about delivery which obviously is growing at a fast clip, but cannibalizing some of your takeout business. I assume it's still the case, I was wondering if you could speak to that dynamic, if you feel like delivery is eating more into that takeout business or staying relatively the same, and if you're still OK with that dynamic?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Well I think the -- it's a good question, and interestingly as we lap -- think about our big push in delivery of expanding distribution -- third-party distribution really started occurring late August into September of last year. So as we've lapped that, we're pleased that we're continuing to see growth in off-premise, and from a percentage growth perspective, delivery while lapping that initiatives starting a year ago was slow down on a percentage basis. But the cannibalization of takeout, which was never monstrous, but was there, has load. So the overall growth has kept going if you will -- a pretty steady pace even though we're lapping the initiative, launching just a bit over a year ago, the deliveries kept growing obviously with less cannibalization from takeout. Does that makes sense? And takeout, just to remind you, is a much bigger business for us still than delivery. So that's meaningful.

William Everett Slabaugh -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Got it. Thanks guys.

Operator

Our next question comes from Stephen Anderson with Maxim Group.

Stephen Anderson -- Maxim Group -- Analyst

Good afternoon. I wanted to -- if you look at your 2019 pipeline, so I ask about your construction costs whether you're seeing an increase or if you -- as you go into sort of the non-California market, if you've actually seen some of the costs decline?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Stephen, it's Greg Levin here. We're seeing and I think everybody is -- we're seeing construction costs increase across the board. You don't have as many people in the trade as you used to have, so you're seeing less people in the trade which is driving up kind of the supply and demand issue, just like we see in hourly labor, whether that's in California or not, it's across the board. We haven't added a new restaurant in California since, I want to say about three years ago when we opened Victorville. So I don't have comparisons what it would be to build in California today. But generally speaking, when we look at some of the areas that we build this year versus where we -- which is versus what it cost us three or four years ago, we're seeing numbers in the 5% to 10% increase.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I'd just add to that -- the impact that we're really seeing or extending the schedules, decreasing in contract reliability, those kind of things as well.

Stephen Anderson -- Maxim Group -- Analyst

Thank you.

Operator

And our last question today comes from John Glass with Morgan Stanley.

Brian -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Hi guys, this is Brian on for John.You had mentioned some of the marketing kind of in new cities that you've entered. I'm just curious kind of about the sales performance that you've seen for those units. Do they -- are you pleased with kind of how they're opening? Is it quite strong or is there something that kind of builds over time? How does that look?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Brian, just to be clear, are you asking about our new restaurant opening units or the brand new restaurants that are opening?

Brian -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Yes, thinking about some of the kind of new units in new cities you've entered, like I think for example Providence?

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, I'll say -- no we've been extremely pleased with a very strong year this year in NRO, four or seem to be five NROs that have all been outside those core markets and Warwick in Rhode Island is a good example, Albany, two in -- or one in Detroit in Livonia just recently it opened up, they are all doing very, very well and we're pleased with the starts in those restaurants.

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes, I think Brian, we talked about this in the past and that is -- our restaurants generally open up with high (inaudible) and so we're really happy with those numbers there. They go into the comp base at 18 months and our restaurants go into comp base negative. By the way, it's that way today, even with our 6.9%, we have a little bit of a drag on comp sales from our restaurants that opened really at the end of '16 or '17. And by usually around month 30th, so another 12 months there, they start to pull themselves out and build up on comp sales. So I think one of the things that we're looking at is does it make sense to see if we can figure out additional marketing in some of those newer markets as they start to hit 18 months out and see if we can shorten that growth timeframe in regards to becoming positive comp sooner versus kind of somewhere in the 30-month out timeframe. So that's what we're looking at doing and that's where some of that additional spend is going.

Brian -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Okay, great, makes sense. I guess, one more. Just you mentioned kind of investing more in digital and mobile. What is it you're kind of planning to do next year and kind of how do you feel like you compare to some of your peers on those in that way?

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

There's I think two elements of it. One is the marketing element where we are continuing to look at digital mediums, particularly video obviously and social that. We -- a good barometer for us is some of the -- when some one-off events, but promotional events that we do like our Free Pizookie Days continue to do better and better. We just had a record setting one at the beginning of this quarter, as Greg alluded to, and I think a good part of that is attributed to how we're able to and Kevin and his team have worked on refining the market communication around those kind of events, primarily almost exclusively frankly through digital and those channels. So that's the marketing element, but we're also talking about how we can use digital technology from an ordering perspective and actual in-restaurant and ordering to go experience, but of course it's digital in nature, but very different than that. So we use the term digital and technology in both context and I think both are important to our future.

Brian -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Okay. Thank you.

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Okay.

Operator

And that concludes the call for today. Thank you all for your participation. You may now disconnect your lines.

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, operator. Thank you, everybody.

Duration: 63:16 minutes

Call participants:

Gregory A. Trojan -- Chief Executive Officer

Rana Schirmer -- Director of SEC Reporting

Gregory S. Levin -- President and Chief Financial Officer

Matthew DiFrisco -- Guggenheim Securities -- Analyst

Brian Bittner -- Oppenheimer and Company -- Analyst

Nicole Miller Regan -- Piper Jaffray -- Analyst

Greg Lynds -- Chief Development Officer

Alexander Slagle -- Jefferies -- Analyst

Mary Hoth -- Robert W. Baird & Co. -- Analyst

William Everett Slabaugh -- Stephens Inc. -- Analyst

Stephen Anderson -- Maxim Group -- Analyst

Brian -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

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