Web Exclusive | June 2015 | By Emily Byrd

Sports Bar Goes Fast Casual

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s responds to consumer trends with new prototype.
Table service wings brand to grow with QSR prototype.
A rendering of the new Beef's Express concept. image used with permission.

The fast-paced action of sports has never quite made its way into the sports bar world, which has long been a full-service, leisurely environment. But the team at Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Family Sports Pub wants to get in on the surging popularity of the fast-casual sector with its new concept, Beef’s Express.

Taking a sport’s pub like Beef ‘O’ Brady’s—called Beef’s by those in the know—and scaling it down to fast-casual dining means giving up a few traditional aspects of its stores. The chain’s CEO, Chris Elliott, no longer expects customers to linger and catch every second of the big games, but says the priority is to carry over the concept’s friendly service and environment while adding increased speed and value.
Elliot says the shift is a response to the ongoing migration of customers away from the casual-dining category and over to fast casual.

“All of the big stories in the industry these days are around fast casual–type restaurant chains—Chipotle, Panera, and brands like that,” he says. “In short, that’s where it’s happening right now.”

Elliot found he wasn’t the only Beef’s member who thought the brand should go the fast-casual direction. Long-time Florida franchisee Joe Bullara and the first Beef’s franchisee, Don Bosko, also had a vision for fast casual. Bullara, his son, and Bosko will be opening the first Beef’s Express in Lakeland, Florida, in mid-to-late August. There are already seven full-service Beef ‘O’ Brady’s locations in the Lakeland area, which Bosko says is part of what had him sold on the idea from the beginning.

“We’re known for our wings, and no one else is really doing wings in a fast-casual format.”

“The name of Beef ‘O’ Brady’s is already well established with the community and in the county, and they also know my and [Bullara]’s families,” he says. “Showing this idea off, it kind of excites me that they’ll already know we do things well, and that a new concept will be even more exciting to them.”

All of the parties involved think the customers will be most excited about what sets Beef’s Express apart from other fast casuals: The inclusion of an eight-seat beer and wine bar and Beef’s signature chicken wings.

“We’re known for our wings, and no one else is really doing wings in a fast-casual format,” Elliot says. “So we’re basically taking the essence of what’s the best in Beef’s—what we know customers love most—and that’s what it’s going to be in fast casual.”

The corporate team and franchise operators met weekly for months, hashing out every aspect of the new menu, kitchen, dining room, and service system and debating, discussing, and remodeling every aspect of the concept in a collaborative effort.

As a result, Beef’s is receiving some upgrades to amp up efficiency in the store. Elliot says this is necessary to accommodate the Express concept’s sizeable menu, which, although it is about half the size of the full-serve restaurant’s menu, is still exceptionally diverse for a fast casual. “People from our industry might look at our menu and say we may be trying to offer too much to do it in a fast-casual format, but the first [differentiator] we have is the variety we offer,” he says.

With the addition of new digital menuboards, along with kitchen upgrades like a new, faster frying system, the restaurant will be more efficient than ever at meeting customers’ orders—especially wings and fries—on a short timetable. Both Elliot and the franchisees are determined to keep other aspects of Beef’s menu as well—from burgers and sandwiches to salads and soups—to satisfy a diverse range of customers.

The emphasis on variety in the store carries over into non-alcoholic beverages as well, with the inclusion of a Coca-Cola freestyle machine containing more than 130 beverage flavors. The brand has also added a few new menu items, including a chicken salad croissant sandwich and multiple pasta dishes. Other menu items still up for consideration are better-for-you options like lettuce wraps and quinoa bowls. Elliot says he hopes the addition of these items, in conjunction with new options for half sandwiches and reduced portions, will appeal to health-conscious, on-the-go consumers.

Bosko also sees the merit in providing a broad menu with more upscale options. “Millennials want to get in and out faster and still have a high-quality meal experience,” he adds.

The brand aims to expand its core demographic with its foray into fast casual while continuing to expand full-service Beef ‘O’ Brady’s restaurants. While the traditional Beef’s locations appeal heavily to families, the new Express prototype is geared toward bringing in business from Millennials and working people on their breaks, bringing more lunchtime traffic.

Beef 'O' Brady's operates 209 locations in 23 states, and the company hopes to eventually rival that number with its Beef’s Express locations.

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