When consumers say “buffalo,” in reference to a restaurant chain, the next word that usually comes out of their mouths is “wild,” according to Diane Matheson, vice president of marketing for Wings and Rings.
That’s not ideal for a brand called Buffalo Wings and Rings, which operates about 60 stores in the U.S.
“I’ve even gotten presentations from vendors and they have the Buffalo Wild Wings logo throughout the whole thing and they’re talking to me,” Matheson says.
The confusion became clear when the chain initiated a brand audit three years ago and found guests mistaking which restaurant they were in and using incorrect gift cards. There were also instances when a customer tried to leave a bad review for a Buffalo Wild Wings nearby, but posted it to the Buffalo Wings and Rings page.
“Only after we asked more questions and found out the food options didn’t make sense, did we find out they actually meant to tag Buffalo Wild Wings,” Matheson recalls.
From this audit, the company gathered insight and examined pathways and alternatives for where Buffalo Wings and Rings’ identity could go next. After deliberation, the best option was to remove the word “buffalo” from the brand entirely and shorten the name to “Wings and Rings,” which is what the chain’s most loyal fans called them anyway, Matheson explains.
The new name softly debuted in the fall of 2020 as part of an elevated store design in Milford, Ohio, and Union, Kentucky. The upgraded restaurant includes a traditional, full-service dining room, but also features a fast-casual leaning hangout zone that comprises self-service digital ordering points, a redesigned patio and fire pit, lounge, and u-shaped bar with TVs and foosball tables. The new box also has valet points, or enclosed canopy spots where workers exit a specified door from the kitchen and drop off food curbside.
Additionally, through a new logo, Matheson says Wings and Rings wants to solidify itself as a “great place to connect with friends and family over a quality experience.” The logo maintains the forward-looking face of a buffalo, but the fur, horns, and expression appear softer and friendlier. Beforehand, “Buffalo Wings & Rings” was placed in a circle around the buffalo, but the new version puts “Wings and Rings” in bigger, bolded font below the logo.
After testing the name and prototype for a year, Wings and Rings finalized the changes and moved forward with switching out materials, packaging, menus, and uniforms systemwide. Matheson says the full rebrand accomplishes two goals—to extend the restaurant’s core demographic to a younger millennial audience, and to establish differentiation.
“We didn’t intend going into [the store design] that the name change was part of the refresh to be honest,” she notes. “As we started to do the audit for the whole brand refresh, [the name change] came up and we wanted to drive more traffic to our restaurants, and that came up as one of the bigger friction points in holding us back from appealing to a broader audience because we were so pigeonholed into the Buffalo Wild Wings camp.”
Matheson says the transition helps Wings and Rings gain more credit for its difference in food quality and service. The company does claim to be in the sports bar and restaurant space, but it views itself as “club level,” with chef-inspired recipes and VIP service.
“Where the frustration point came in is that certain consumers who don’t like the experience or the food at Buffalo Wild Wings were turned off to our experience,” Matheson says, “However, they were still diners in the category. So they still liked that kind of sports bar and restaurant space. They just had some assumptions about who we were as a brand. We just really wanted to make sure that we had the opportunity to be able to just signal that we are different.”
Matheson, who previously worked with consumer packaged goods, remembers that every time there was a name change on any brand, most guests will recognize everything is the same quality, but there’s typically about 20 percent that are skeptical and wonder why the name was changed. She acknowledges the challenge of changing a name after more than three decades of existence, but the industry veteran also knows it’s been done before. For instance, Domino’s Pizza switched to Domino’s, and Dunkin’ Donuts a few years ago transitioned to Dunkin’.
During the decision-making process, there were multiple options to choose from, including changing the whole name, Matheson says. But that type of shift posed too great a risk to consumer awareness, and that’s true for both physical and digital real estate.
“If you go too far, like if our current guest gets on the internet and they type in ‘Buffalo Wings and Rings’ or ‘Wings and Rings,’ how do we keep the search engines still recognizing it’s the same brand,” Matheson says, “It’s something to think about. We actually even had to petition Facebook to even drop the ‘buffalo’ in our name and go with Wings and Rings without losing our whole page of fans.”
“It is a challenge,” she adds. “We didn’t take it lightly, but like I said, we just evolved and we knocked any of the revolutionary names off the table. It was just too far from where we wanted to go. We felt like we had a really good, strong brand.”
Essentially everything outside of store signage is up to date with the new name and logo. Matheson estimates the process of remodeling every store to the new design will take roughly two years.
At the moment, Wings and Rings doesn’t plan to do any major marketing push around the name change other than communication through emails, social media, and potentially some YouTube videos that say “Wings and Rings has a better ring to it.”
“Short-term might we have a few challenges to overcome? Absolutely,” Matheson says. “Long-term, we think this is the right choice for us as a brand.”