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2015 Top 100: Why Buffalo Wild Wings is the No. 10 fastest-growing chain

This is part of Nation's Restaurant News’ annual Top 100 report, a proprietary census ranking the foodservice industry’s largest restaurant chains and companies by sales and unit data, among other metrics.

Buffalo Wild Wings Inc., which has grown with its sports-minded positioning and vibrant game-watching atmosphere, rose to No. 19, based on U.S. Systemwide Sales, in the Latest Year, from No. 22 in the Preceding Year.

The Minneapolis-based casual-dining chain, which was founded in 1982 and is now publicly traded, offers a menu of chicken wings, shareable plates, sandwiches and burgers that appeal to a game-day demographic, but its appeal has expanded well beyond wing-eating fans and sporting events.

Buffalo Wild Wings ended the Latest Year with 1,052 U.S. units, an increase from 978 U.S. restaurants at the end of the Preceding Year.

Keys to growth

Building bar business. Buffalo Wild Wings works to keep its bar program fresh, CEO Sally Smith said in May. After all, the brand’s tagline is “Wings, Beer, Sports.” Beer is Buffalo Wild Wings’ third best-selling item, after boneless wings and bone-in wings. Alcohol represents 25 percent of the company’s sales, with beer comprising three-quarters of that. The chain even sells more beer than it does soda. The company has invested in a craft beer program, which has led sales in the category to increase to 11 percent of all beer sales, from 6.5 percent three years ago. The goal is to raise that figure to 20 percent, Smith said.

Technology enhancements. Buffalo Wild Wings is working to add technology to its restaurants to improve speed of service, executives said. In April, the company said it had installed tabletop tablets at 80 percent of its restaurants. The rollout should be complete this year. Executives said the goal is to roll out ordering and payment technology in 2016. Buffalo Wild Wings also plans to test technology that would let customers order their meals on the tablet, and is currently testing handheld devices to enable customers to pay more quickly.

New lunch. In April, Buffalo Wild Wings introduced a new lunch program, called “B-Dubs Fast Break Lunch,” that intends to get weekday customers in and out of the restaurant in less than 40 minutes. Technology such as faster ordering and payment would aid that initiative, executives said. Lunch is traditionally a more challenging daypart than dinner for casual-dining restaurants.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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