Buffalo Wings & Rings may be a casual-dining restaurant with table service, but it’s learned a thing or two from quick service that it is now leveraging to build sales and customer loyalty.
The brand’s quick-service kitchen setup allows Buffalo Wings & Rings to churn out saucy wings in a snap. And the Cincinnati, Ohio–based brand is reaping the rewards of this efficient hybrid model, averaging a 15 percent growth in annual unit volume for the past eight years.
With its 30th anniversary around the corner, Buffalo Wings & Rings will relaunch in its home market, capitalizing on its newfound efficiency.
“Wings & Rings was started back in 1984 by a husband-and-wife team who were really passionate about food,” says CEO Roger David, whose family founded Gold Star Chili. “The brand was a little tired and needed to be revitalized, so I came on board in 2009 and have had an absolute blast building the brand and ensuring the foundation was set for growth.”
That foundation has allowed Buffalo Wings & Rings to stay a cut above others in a wings segment that traditionally operates in a quick-service format, David says. A typical Buffalo Wings & Rings unit ranges from 4,500 to 6,500 square feet and features a full bar and waitresses. “But the back of the house, the kitchen, the layout of the kitchen, the investment in the kitchen, and the amount of space in the kitchen is very small,” David says. “With wings, you don’t need a lot of equipment in the back.”
The kitchen is just big enough to allow Buffalo Wings & Rings to serve a full menu of classic and boneless wings in sauces like Garlic Parmesan, Ragin’ Cajun, and Sweet Thai Chili, all available in five different levels of heat. The menu also boasts a selection of salads, burgers, wraps, quesadillas, and upscale sides. As a part of the anniversary celebration, Buffalo Wings & Rings will introduce four new sauce flavors, including Bourbon BBQ and Wasabi.
While the menu and full bar up the ante and allow the brand to differentiate itself from others, David says, its atmosphere is a large part of what attracts the masses. “Within the wing space, there are a lot of national brands that focus on one demographic—they’re very much a ‘man cave.’ There are a lot of neon beer signs; it’s dark; there are jerseys hanging from the wall,” he says. “When you’re in a Wings & Rings, that’s not the case.”
The environment is bright with light colors, and food is served in china instead of disposable paper boats, David says. And despite the presence of a full bar, the concept attracts many families, thanks in part to the fact that David and his team pay special attention to layout.
“We found that consumers really love the energy of the bar, but when they were with their families, they didn’t want to be in the bar,” David says. “However, they didn’t necessarily want to have complete seclusion.” With that in mind, the Buffalo Wings & Rings team designed a space with various “zones,” some quieter than others.
The model has garnered the attention of quick-serve operators, too, David says—some of its franchisees came from quick-serve mainstays such as Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, Marco’s Pizza, and McDonald’s. David says the kitchen setup “makes a quick-service operator’s transition into our brand a lot more palatable from the back of the house, and as long as they have a high sense of hospitality and service, then they’ll have a really good connection.”
By Tamara Omazic