Here’s one sports cliché Buffalo Wild Wings has turned into a promise: Start the clock.
At nearly 900 of the chain’s locations throughout the U.S., guests are now timing their meals during the always-harried lunch hour. If the clock hits 15 minutes before food reaches the table, the meal, plus a drink, is on the house. For Buffalo Wild Wings, the introduction of this program is far from a gimmick. Todd Kronebusch, the vice president of food and beverage at the sports-centric concept, says the brand understands its disconnect with daypart diners. Last reported, lunch sales represented just a little over 10 percent of their sales. “That’s why we think it’s one of the largest areas of growth for our brand,” Kronebusch explains.
The main culprit, in Buffalo Wild Wings’ observation, has been timing. In-house research showed that many guests only have 30 to 40 minutes for lunch, from the time they enter the restaurant until the time they leave. And in this specific case, there’s an even bigger divide. Many of Buffalo Wild Wings’ patrons walk in the door expecting to stay a while. “Sometimes I think people think of us as the place you go to hang out,” Kronebusch notes. “You’re there for games. You’re there for socializing with friends. You’re there for more than an hour, especially if its game day. It can be one to three hours. At lunch, people don’t always think of us like that because they think of this connotation, ‘Oh, maybe we can’t get you in and out in that 40-minute window.’ So I think by us coming out and saying it, and creating a promise, is intriguing to people.”
There was one group out in Michigan that had higher-than-normal lunch metrics. When Kronebusch looked deeper into the case, he was intrigued by their guaranteed lunch service. It had been going for “seven or eight years.”
“We said, ‘Let’s take this idea, expand on it, and use it as a catalyst to get everyone in our company-owned restaurants, as well as many franchisees that want to join in, to be unified for this guaranteed lunch program,” he recalls.
Making the concept even more seamless, the nature of the brand’s Fast Break Lunch program, which has been in place system-wide since 2015, was built for speed. Now, it was simply going to be visually and quantifiably measurable.
When a guest orders off the special menu, defined by its Pick 2 nature and variety, the server will set off the timer—located in the Buzztime tablet already on the table. The clock counts up to 15 minutes. Buffalo Wild Wings can record back-end analytics such as when it’s stopped, started, how often it’s used, and simply, if the unit meets the mark or ends up giving away a meal.
Even in that latter case, Kronebusch sees a positive spin. “I look at this program as a win-win. If the guest is getting a free meal, it’s a win for them,” he says. “If we’re getting every meal out there in 15 minutes and people have confidence that they can get in and out in a short period of time for lunch, that’s a huge win for us.”
The program was tested for about four weeks until the early July rollout. Kronebusch says it has fostered a spirit of competition throughout the units. They created a message board where operators could go and discuss their personal results—how they’re succeeding, what they need to work on, and shouting out fellow employees.
“It’s really become a great way for us to show who’s doing it really, really well, and also who’s in need of some help,” he says. “And then we can reach out to those doing well and say, ‘Hey, what are you guys doing different? Here are three things I think our restaurant does that really prepares us for that lunch shift.”
“That banter back and forth is positive,” Kronebusch continues. “The competition was positive, and also the communication, which allows our team members to learn from each other. That’s been extremely positive.”
Kronebusch is expecting to tweak the menu in the fall. It’s available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the 15-minute guarantee applies to parties of six or fewer guests who dine in and order from the Fast Break menu. Some items include: Southwest Philly (Prime Rib) Sandwich and Street Tacos, as well as other favorites like the Chicken Buffalito and Honey BBQ Chicken Salad, and naturally, chicken wings.
“For us, it’s creating that call to order for our guests and our team members to understand that we need this to be a priority for lunch, and we need people to have confidence they can come in and get in and out fast,” Kronebusch says, adding that he looks at trends in the fast-casual sector. “… They know we have great quality food and they know what great variety we have, and now they know they should be able to come to us and get in and out and get back to the office in time.”
By Danny Klein