Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Restaurants' new opportunities

Opportunism is crucial to the ongoing success of a restaurant or chain. So where are operators hunting opportunities today?

Buffalo Wild Wings can’t seem to slosh a beer without hitting a way to boost sales. Next month the chain will add six “share-a-bowl” snack items that patrons can dip into as they watch college or pro football games.

The wings specialist is also about to try a new restaurant design that showcases televised sporting events and “feels like being in a stadium,” CEO Sally Smith told investors yesterday. The layout will encourage customers to settle into a game—sipping beers and sharing snacks or apps as they do, of course.

Adaptation is not underappreciated by the casual darling, either. As Smith explained, poultry producers are growing bigger birds today, which means the wings are meatier, too. A pound will contain fewer wings, yet the price is also rising because of feed-cost issues. That means BWW would have to really jack up its prices for a six- or 12-wing order if it wanted to protect margins.

Instead, it’s experimenting with a new wing formation. Instead of selling a certain number of wings, the chain is testing a variable count. You might get five in one order, six in another, or even four in yet another.

It’s the same approach seafood places take when they sell crab legs or other pricey proteins by the pound. Guests are told that an order typically ranges from four to six legs, say, but there’s no set count.

Of course, BWW can’t turn every challenging situation into an opportunity. Last year the franchisor’s stores in Texas greatly benefited from the playoff and World Series appearances of the Texas Rangers. This year the four teams that made it to the league championship series weren’t in company-run markets, though the franchisees in those areas still got a payoff.

Elsewhere in the industry, a new term is cropping up: pack-and-go, the tag for selling holiday meal packages at Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and the like.

I’m on the hunt for chains that are taking that approach to the booming tailgate market this football season. Alumni of big colleges tell me I’m chasing a snape; any true-blooded tailgater would never dream of putting out a store-bought pre-game spread in the parking lot.

Still, I wonder if that’s an opportunity waiting to be exploited.

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