Why Buffalo Wild Wings Is Fastest-Growing Restaurant Chain

March 20, 2014 - Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. - Wings headed for customers at Buffalo Wild Wings at the University of Minnesota
Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/Zumapress.com
By Ashley Lutz

Buffalo Wild Wings, the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the U.S., is thriving where casual-dining competitors like Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Applebee's have struggled.

While many chains focus on the food, Buffalo Wild Wings invests in the customer experience. Each location has numerous TVs, and customers can watch the event of their choice. Customers can play trivia games on tablets as servers entice them to sample sauces.

"Buffalo Wild Wings looked fun, and cost-conscious families saw it as a two-fer," Bloomberg analyst Jennifer Bartahus writes. "If you're going to spend $40 on your family, the lure of being able to entertain yourself at the same time is strong."

Guest Captains Take Charge of the TV Channels

Buffalo Wild Wings' success can be partly attributed to consumers moving to affordable subscription services like Netflix over traditional, costly cable packages, writes Bryan Gruley at Bloomberg. "The restaurants focused on sports as younger clientele came to watch cable and satellite channels they couldn't afford at home," Gruley writes. "Buffalo Wild Wings became an early adopter of flat screens and high-definition TV."

The company has hired "guest captains" who are responsible for changing TV channels. They were key to the brand's March Madness strategy, vice president of marketing Bob Ruhland told Business Insider. "This person isn't burdened with cleaning tables and delivering food," Ruhland said. "They make sure that TVs are on the right channel and are going to be really key during March Madness when people are following specific teams."

CEO Sally Smith told Bloomberg Business that the company would build as many as 600 locations in the U.S. While Netflix might be helping Buffalo Wild Wings' business, a Macy's executive blames Netflix for sluggish sales. Millennials have a tendency to spend money on electronics and online subscriptions rather than apparel, chief financial officer Karen Hoguet said at a conference covered by MarketWatch. "I think part of that is the customers are buying other things, whether the electronics, cable services, Netflix, whatever."
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