Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. said this week that the tablet computers currently in use at tables in 150 company-owned restaurants would roll out to 500 locations by the end of this year and to all of its more than 1,000 restaurants in North America by late 2015.
The Minneapolis-based casual-dining chain chose Buzztime BEOND 7-inch tablets to allow guests to order and pay at the table, as well as access complimentary and prepaid content like sports highlights or play video poker and trivia. The multiyear agreement follows a test of the tablets in 30 Buffalo Wild Wings locations.
“We were pleasantly surprised that both usage and game play on the tablets increased [during test] versus our older platform, as did the number of people registering their information on the tablet,” said Ben Nelsen, vice president of guest experience and innovation for Buffalo Wild Wings. “We want to provide our guests choices when ordering, and if they’re comfortable using tablets, we want to provide that.”
Tablet technology is top of mind for several restaurant chains, from a test of customizable burgers built with an iPad at a handful of McDonald’s restaurants to the systemwide adoption of tableside tablets for Applebee’s and Chili’s.
Another casual-dining bellwether, The Cheesecake Factory, recently said it would not adopt tablets in its restaurants anytime soon, despite analysts’ predictions that more chains would explore the possible labor-saving benefits of such systems.
Buffalo Wild Wings’ tablets offer the interactive and entertainment experiences of playing trivia and video poker, as well as request certain channels on TVs nearby or certain songs to be played in the restaurant, Nelsen noted. He added that the operational features, such as paging the “guest experience captains” or servers on the floor to bring the check, or ordering and paying from the tablet, are meant to complement Buffalo Wild Wings’ “guest experience” model that also is spreading systemwide this year.
“We think this will free up guest experience captains and servers to leverage the experience and the technology,” he said. “The guests are very interested in the features on the tablet, and that just gives our staff another tool to deliver that ultimate experience.”
Nelsen stressed that the adoption of tableside tablets was not “a labor play” meant to reduce the number of team members or managers on the floor or to manage any percentage points off Buffalo Wild Wings’ labor cost.
“It’s a sensitive topic for the servers when they see these things come up, but we have no plans to replace servers through technology,” Nelsen said. “This will be an enhancement to the service model — certainly not a replacement. This is really a guest experience and entertainment play, and we’re giving more tools to our servers and guest experience captains.”
A complement to a new prototype
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He added that the tablets likely would complement Buffalo Wild Wings’ “Stadia” prototype for all newly built restaurants quite well. The new building design has the bar at the center and a more open layout meant to foster interaction among guests coming to Buffalo Wild Wings for sporting events.
Likewise, a key social feature of the tablets allows guests to send messages and interact digitally with other Buffalo Wild Wings guests, whether they are across the dining room in the same restaurant or across the country in another location, he said.
“We think the Stadia footprint, along with a platform like this, could really work hand in hand nicely,” Nelsen said. “When the [Minnesota] Vikings and [Chicago] Bears play, the restaurants in Minneapolis and Chicago can be interacting with one another around the game on the tablets. We’re seeing some of that already in test, and we’re really excited about it.”
The brand also will have opportunities to show sports content on its tablets as well as on the televisions in the restaurant, Nelsen said. He confirmed that some of that programming would be original shows or highlight packages given exclusively to Buffalo Wild Wings from partners like the NCAA or the National Football League, which chief financial officer Mary Twinem had hinted during the chain’s last earnings call could be a possible pass-through marketing opportunity from Buffalo Wild Wing’s new partnership with PepsiCo.
“It all will live both on the TV screens with a dedicated network and on the tablets,” Nelsen said. “It would be unique, proprietary content from our partners that would bolster both the tablet experience and the overall AV package.”
At the close of its fourth quarter of 2013, Buffalo Wild Wings operated 434 company-owned units and franchised another 559 locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Contact Mark Brandau at mark.[email protected].
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