Buffalo Wild Wings to-go restaurant interior.
Buffalo Wild Wings

In the past six weeks, Buffalo Wild Wings has grown its off-premises business by more than 140 percent.

Buffalo Wild Wings Unveils To-Go Only Concept in Atlanta

The restaurant allows customers to pick up contactless orders.

On Wednesday, Buffalo Wild Wings will debut its first “GO” concept in Atlanta, a restaurant specifically for to-go and delivery orders.

The 1,800-square-foot restaurant will have a walk-up counter, digital menu boards, and a small seating area with TVs to entertain customers while they wait for their order. The sports bar chain is seeking to create a frictionless experience, as well. Those who order ahead will be able to pick up their meal from a heated locker.

It appears to be the perfect time to introduce a to-go restaurant, considering COVID-19’s impact on dining room closures and the resulting growth in off-premises sales across the industry. Buffalo Wild Wings COO John Bowie said that in the past six weeks, the brand has grown its off-premises business by more than 140 percent.

The news comes a couple of years after Buffalo Wild Wings rolled out its B-Dubs Express counter-service model in Minnesota. The 2,500-square-foot concept offers a dining room that seats 35 to 40 people and gives customers the option of ordering ahead or dining in. There’s only one Express spot—in Hopkins, Minnesota. Traditional locations are between 4,000 and 7,000 square feet and provide 200 seats or more. In December 2018, Buffalo Wild Wings also unveiled a “Restaurant of the Future” design—its first new prototype in six years.

During its conversion of more than 1,250 locations to an off-premises only operation amid the pandemic, the brand said it has learned insights and best practices to support the “GO” model.

“I am thrilled to introduce the new ‘GO’ model in our own backyard of Atlanta, Georgia,” Bowie said in a statement. “… Buffalo Wild Wings ‘GO’ is perfect for friends and family who want to enjoy our authentic, New York-style buffalo wings at home.”

The menu will feature traditional and boneless wings—including all 23 sauces and dry rubs—hand-breaded tenders, and a selection of sides. The store will also have Buffalo Wild Wings' BOGO deals for traditional wings on Tuesday and boneless wings on Thursday.

Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t the only full-service chain looking to reap the benefits of a growing off-premises market.

P.F. Chang’s debuted its to-go concept in Chicago back in February. The company said it expects to open at least three of the carryout, catering, and delivery focused units in the Windy City. New York City, Washington, D.C., and Houston are also future possibilities. Additionally, in 2017 Bloomin’ Brands began experimenting with Outback and Carrabba’s Express to-go models in Florida. The company plans to open its first stand-alone Aussie Grill in Lutz, Florida, in the first half of 2020. The fast casual Outback spinoff will include a drive thru and dining room and be 2,925 square feet with a 305-square-foot patio.

IHOP also has a fast casual—Flip’d—in the works, with Attala as the first proposed landing spot. Applebee’s opened an Express store in Mobile, Alabama, last December—a franchised location run by Quality Restaurants Concepts that seats only 72.

Pre-COVID-19, Cracker Barrel was in the process of converting its seven Holler & Dash units to Maple Street Biscuit Company stores, a brand it recently acquired for $36 million in cash. The Cheesecake Factory debuted an Asian counter-service brand, Social Monk Asian Kitchen. Additionally, Part of Hooters’ July sale to Nord Bay Capital and its adviser, TriArtisan Capital Advisors, included the potential growth of Hoots, a fast casual introduced nearly three years ago.

But while full-service has a rich history in taking the counter-service route, no major chain, for the most part, has successful penetrated the space with a serious growth vehicle.

Could COVID-19 change that?

Buffalo Wild Wings is an interesting case because its roots lie in quick service. When the chain introduced B-Dubs Express in August 2017, it came roughly 15 years after the brand shifted its strategy away from counter service and focused firmly on a full-service sports-bar model.

Buffalo Wild Wings was founded in 1982 and began franchising in 1990, and originally launched as a “quick-casual” restaurant where customers ordered at a counter and had their food delivered to their table.

Todd Kronebusch, then Buffalo Wild Wings’ vice president of market development (he’s now CEO of Barfly Ventures), told QSR at the time that the counter-service model was confusing to guests, “because you ordered at a counter and then you sat down at a table, and you had a server who came by and you could reorder food or get your beverage orders. As we went out and expanded into new markets, we quickly realized that people had a hard time understanding the service model.”

B-Dubs Express was mainly developed with the idea of opening in markets and real estate that couldn’t support a full-sized Buffalo Wild Wings. In particular, smaller markets and densely populated areas. It focused on the company’s top 20 percent core items, value, and ease-of-convenience factor.

Naturally, much has changed. Today, it’s as much a real estate conversation as it’s a contactless one. And how Buffalo Wild Wings can broaden to-go reach and help customers eat at home.

Hence the heated takeout lockers, which are a first for the brand. Guests can order ahead and pickup without interacting with anybody.

Buffalo Wild Wings has plenty of counter-service support from its parent company now, too. The chain was sold to Roark Capital-backed Arby’s Restaurant Group for $2.9 billion in 2018. The deal formed Inspire Brands, which now directs more than 1,250 locations between Arby’s, Sonic Drive-In, Jimmy John’s, and fast casual Rusty Taco.