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Buffalo Wild Wings switches back to selling wings by the numbers

The shift ends the chain’s reliance on vaguer order sizes where wing counts could vary widely.
Photograph: Shutterstock

With the college basketball playoffs about to begin, Buffalo Wild Wings (BWW) has changed the way it portions wings, a commodity that traditionally soars in cost during the four-week spike in demand known as March Madness.

The casual chain has switched back to offering specific counts of wings, instead of hedging the numbers by offering small, medium and large orders. Patrons will be invited to specify whether they want six, 10, 15, 20 or 30 wings in their orders.

BWW dropped the specific numbers years ago in a bid to hold down costs while it was publicly owned. Executives explained at the time that the wings it was serving varied widely in size and meat content. Patrons sometimes felt they were getting cheated because the wings were small. In other instances, they were getting heftier orders at the same price, with margins squeezed accordingly because BWW bought the pieces on a per-pound basis.

Rather than fiddling with prices, BWW switched to the large, small and medium labels, using wing weights and sizes as the determinants of how many pieces were included in each order. But the plan backfired. As then-CEO Sally Smith explained at the time, employees couldn’t cut wings into halves or thirds to keep an order within the targeted weight. Instead, the orders were rounded up to the next whole wing, hiking food costs accordingly.

The escalating costs of wings were among the problems that caused investors to push for a sale of the chain and the resignation of Smith, who stepped down with BWW’s subsequent purchase by Arby’s for $2.9 billion. The two restaurant operations were then merged to form what is now Inspire Brands.

BWW said it was switching back to apportioning orders by count because customers were confused by the large, small and medium labels. “No more wondering what a large order is,” the chain explains on its website. “Confusing wing sizes have been benched and we pulled wing counts out of retirement.”

."Over the past year, we talked to consumers through focus groups and surveys, and consistently heard that, without a wing count, our guests didn't now what they were getting for the price,"  a BWW spokesperson said. "Following this feedback, we tested wing counts in approximately 100 sports bars across the country to confirm that insight. Through the test, we verified everything we heard in the consumer research: Our guests prefer wing counts.

"Of course, there will always be slight differences in weights, but our consumers told us they would prefer to have transparency when ordering," the spokesperson continued. 

The brand is not the only casual-dining operation to rethink its wing policy for March Madness. Applebee’s announced Monday that it was resurrecting its offer of unlimited boneless wings for 25 cents each, for as long as supplies last. Boneless wings are actually made from breast meat, which is typically far less expensive than actual wings.

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