February is a crucial month for the food and beverage industry.
Two events—the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day—bring droves of customers. In years past, these two days were roughly a couple of weeks apart. Then the NFL decided to add another week to its regular season, which pushed the Super Bowl back a week. Now, the two calendar milestones are just days apart. In 2022, Valentine’s Day was the Monday after the Super Bowl. This year, they’re just two days apart. If you’re curious about a lookahead, in 2027 the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day will fall on the same day for the first time in history.
Hooters, a prototypical sports bar celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, feels the tailwind more than most. In addition to the calendar shift, a difference from other years is that consumers are in a mindset to get out and enjoy life amid COVID, says chief marketing officer Bruce Skala. Both the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day already provide a call to action for friends and family to gather, but now, that energy is pent up and ready to explode.
“2022 was an interesting year because it was literally Sunday to Monday,” says chief marketing officer Bruce Skala. “This year, it’s Sunday to Tuesday, Super Bowl to Valentine’s Day. So that gap day in between is going to help us and give our customers a chance to reset, have a day off, and then get back in it. People want a reason to go out and they’re looking for a reason to go out and they’re watching their friends and their family post [social media] stories of what they’re doing. And we’re here to provide the solution.”
Every year, at least 100 million viewers have eyes on the Super Bowl.
A significant portion of those consumers is enjoying the experience with food from a restaurant. Toast, which surveyed nearly 1,000 guests that dine out three to five times per month, found that 57 percent plan to patronize food and drink places for the game, whether that’s takeout, dine-in, or delivery.
Systemwide, Hooters typically sells more than 2 million wings during Super Bowl weekend. During COVID, the wing market has been particularly volatile with tough inflation, but CEO Sal Melilli says so far in 2023, commodities appear favorable. The chain is looking at decent relief, at least in the first quarter.
“Over the years, it is very volatile,” Melilli says. “We always say the only thing that’s consistent about the wing market is it seems to be inconsistent. Fortunately for us, being a business for 40 years, we’ve got deep relationships and partnerships with our vendors and providers around the country, so that whether it was during the pandemic or during big events, we never run out of chicken wings. If you’re the leader in the category, you certainly cannot be out of your No. 1 signature product. So we know these peak seasons. We know the volumes that are coming.”
Because the term “Super Bowl” has been a registered trademark since 1969, companies aren’t allowed to use it in marketing messages.
But that obstacle matters very little leading up to the game.
“It’s not an issue at all,” Skala says. “The Super Bowl, everyone knows the game on Sunday is the big game. It’s kind of ubiquitous. So there’s no issue at all with promoting a special for the big game. The linkage for the consumer is made without issue.”
Hooters expects to attract even more guests this year since it includes sports betting within certain restaurants where it’s legal. The American Gaming Association found that 50.4 million adults will bet roughly $16 billion on the Super Bowl. The number of bettors is projected to increase 61 percent from last year. Hooters stores that are involved in sports betting have partnerships with DraftKings and Points Bet. These certain restaurants have TVs dedicated to showing betting game schedules and odds.
One of the biggest benefits is increased dwell time, Skala says, in which guests are staying longer and ordering more rounds of food and drinks. Micro betting—which allows bettors to place wagers on individual moments within a game instead of the end result—is playing a large role in dwell time.
“We’re a tremendous complement to the gambling industry,” Melilli says. “If you think about our AV package, the TVs that we have on, and this time of year, the Super Bowl. Then it leads right into the next biggest one, March Madness. I mean that is right in our wheelhouse. It’s certainly a tremendous opportunity. And again, 40 years later, this is a consistently big time of year for us.”
For Valentine’s Day, Hooters has built equity with its annual #ShredYourEx event, where customers can bring in a picture of their former significant other and earn 10 free wings with an in-store purchase by burning, burying, ripping, or shredding the picture. The offer is made for convenience too—guests can also scrap digital photos online ahead of time to receive the in-store coupon.
Skala says the differentiation with Hooters is engagement, meaning customers aren’t simply walking to a shredder and doing it themselves. The entire staff gets behind the process, and many times, they’re bringing out photos of their exes and shredding them. The executive describes it as a “big community party” within the restaurant.
“We can’t get ahead of ourselves and think that this is a really serious promotion and a white tablecloth dining event,” Skala says. “This is a party. It’s a fun time to go out on Valentine’s Day.”
Melilli says Hooters prepares for the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day with a playbook that gets refined each year. It’s all the details to ensure the sports bar executes those days successfully—start times of employees coming into the building; when to start dropping chicken wings into fryers; what the to-go station looks like; and how to handle delivery service providers. Afterward, there’s a postgame recap (no different than actual football players) to go over what everyone learned and what can be improved.
“Our team members are very passionate about their business and they rise up to the occasion, number one,” Melilli says. “Number two, tremendous opportunity with that robust volume and sales in terms of making money earning tips. Everybody looks forward and they’re passionate in their jobs. So there’s never been an issue. Rising tide floats all the boats, and having these events in the same week, everybody’s geared up for it mentally and physically.”