- Buffalo Wild Wings unveiled a sports-centric, technology-driven new store design in New Caney, Texas, and Bowling Green, Kentucky, parent company Inspire Brands announced Monday. The new space focuses on the bar, made from recycled basketball courts, where guests can watch the game on a plethora of televisions from communal or high-top tables. The main dining area features a mix of tables and booths to accommodate parties of all sizes.
- The new design adds two major elements: the Dugout, a dual waiting area and hang-out space with bleachers also made from recycled courts, and the MVP Room, a 21+ lounge with self-pour beer taps that looks more like a living room. From the couch or side chairs, guests can catch local sports or competitive gaming competitions such as Twitch, or play Xbox, PlayStation or Nintendo.
- Buffalo Wild Wings also enhanced the stadium-like viewing experience with LED environmental lighting that changes based on crowd noise and can be customized to match team colors. Customers can also relax in a year-round patio space with skylights and roll-up garage doors, which can be closed off for private events, or enter a separate entrance to grab food from a dedicated take-out counter.
In addition to the Houston-area and Bowling Green restaurants, Buffalo Wild Wings will open two more redesigned stores early next year in Fort Worth and Arden, North Carolina. “The local experience will be different for every community, and that’s exactly what we want,” said Luke DeRouen, VP of brand experience and activation at Buffalo Wild Wings. Now the fifth-largest restaurant company, Inspire also owns Sonic and Arby’s, which brought its CEO Paul Brown into the fold to save the day.
Brown promised menu and marketing overhauls at Buffalo Wild Wings akin to the turnaround he led at Arby’s, Business Insider reported in February. He teased of a pending “persona” shift and emphasized the importance of getting back to the chain’s sports bar roots. This design seems to offer the first glimpse of that transformation, though it’s unclear how many stores will see similar renovations — lately an expensive and risky proposition for franchised systems.
Buffalo Wild Wings might be making these moves at just the right time, as Technomic estimates that casual dining sales will rise 2.7% in 2018 — the first silver lining for the segment in years. The chain’s comparable sales at its nearly 1,300 stores dragged 1.6% last year, but Brown realized how far unique experiences can go in casual dining today. Meanwhile, Outback and Applebee’s have been posting sales growth, but Buffalo expects that to change with Inspire’s buying power and extra capital finally kicking in.
The chain strategically chose locations near larger metro areas, where they can build out large spaces and become pillars of the community for watching sports, dining with family or grabbing no-hassle take-out. Off-premise sales, which accounted for 16% of company store sales in 2016, also played into these new designs. Customers can park in designated take-out spots, pick-up their order without the hassle of the regular restaurant, and even snag a bottle or two of Buffalo’s signature hot sauces, according to Food News Feed. Though the chain wants to be known for more than chicken wings, the party-food favorite travels well, making delivery and take-out a no-brainer at this point.
Buffalo has also experimented with other experiential changes, including self-serve beer walls and beer delivery at 19 locations. Restaurant Business reported that in markets where customers can grab six-packs with their to-go orders and tack on beer to their delivery order, 60% of all alcohol sales go through delivery.
The new store models seem to tackle all of these potential perks simultaneously, pleasing customers looking for an easy pick-up, a casual Sunday game viewing, or a Friday night PlayStation party with friends