The Buffalo Wings & Rings casual-dining chain has previewed a new restaurant design that shifts the brand closer to a fast-casual format.
Several elements address changes in consumer behavior that have been fostered by the pandemic, but the prototype also anticipates the easing of social-distancing requirements for on-site service. Those post-COVID-19 touches include what the high-volume 80-unit brand calls a “hangout zone,” an area designated as the Beer Me section, where patrons have the option of placing their own orders for beer and food while they watch TV, play foosball or congregate around a fire pit.
Traditional waiter or waitress service is also available. The chain says it’s working on technology that will enable patrons to summon a server or pay for their meal from their tables.
The nudge toward modified service comes as casual chains specializing in chicken wings are facing a stepped-up challenge from fast-casual brands offering the finger foods for takeout and delivery. The to-go concept Wingstop, for instance, posted a 32% upswing in same-store sales for the second quarter, a period described by many restaurant operators as the most difficult time in their history.
Buffalo Wings & Rings’ arch-rival Buffalo Wild Wings lifted the curtain off a new takeout-and-delivery concept called Buffalo Wild Wings Go in May.
Takeout at Wings & Rings’ will be accommodated with curbside delivery, or what the chain calls “valet service.” When patrons pull up to the restaurant, a staff member brings them the food. A description of the new design mentions another hangout area, presumably where delivery drivers or patrons who order takeout on the spot can wait for their orders.
The name has been tweaked to “Wings & Rings,” with the word “Buffalo” replaced with a headshot of the critter.
“The new restaurant design has been optimized with the dine-in customer in mind, but Buffalo Wings & Rings has amped up services for those picking up or ordering out as well,” the chain said in announcing the new prototype, acknowledging that the new look was influenced by the off-premise boom ignited by sheltering at home and limits on on-premise service.
“Especially with COVID-19, people are itching to gather with friends and family, and after this is all over we’re excited to have the space to connect people together through our brand,” Diane Matheson, Buffalo Wings & Rings’ VP of marketing and brand strategy, said in a statement.
In announcing the new prototype, the chain said it intends to add wing varieties and sandwiches.
The first restaurant to sport the new design is scheduled to open during September in Milford, Ohio, with a second planned for sometime in 2021, the Cincinnati-based operator said.