Restaurant chains look to score big on Super Bowl Sunday.

February 1st cannot come quickly enough for Jason Murphy.

The brand manager for the Old Chicago restaurant chain, Murphy expects sales at his company’s 100-plus units to soar on February’s first day, when the National Football League’s two conference champions battle for the season’s top prize.

“Super Bowl Sunday is the greatest sports food holiday of all. It’s not a day for grilling or turkey or ham, but pizza and wings,” Murphy says. “For a concept like us, that’s great news.”

Indeed, the big game means big results for many restaurants. According to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), an estimated 48 million Americans ordered take-out or delivery food from a restaurant while watching last season’s championship tilt between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks.

“Super Bowl Sunday is like Thanksgiving for friends, and many groups gather year after year to watch the game together with a deep spread of food,” Murphy says.

The NRA reports that chicken wings, pizza, salsa, dips, and spreads are the top must-have foods for watching the championship game, which prompts chains like Old Chicago, Wild Wing Cafe, and others to unveil attractive deals to corral business for those game-day staples.

Last year, for instance, Outback Steakhouse touted its Game Day Wing Offer of 20 wings for $14.99, while the casual-dining chain also tossed in a free Bloomin’ Onion for guests on Feb. 3—the day after the game—to drive additional traffic. Russo’s Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen, meanwhile, enticed orders with a 28-inch party pizza it promoted through email and social media two weeks in advance of the Super Bowl.

“It’s something unique and different that catches peoples’ attention,” Russo’s founder Anthony Russo says of his super-sized pie.

But it’s not only the pizza and wing-peddling joints seeking to capitalize on the Super Bowl’s immense appeal. In 2014, Carrabba’s Italian Grill promoted its Festa Party Platter, urging its 1.4 million Facebook fans to “ditch the wings” in favor of bruschetta, meatballs, and other savory appetizers, and even P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, rarely a brand associated with football die-hards, offered a 20 percent discount on online orders on Super Bowl Sunday.

“There’s so much hoopla around the Super Bowl that it’s important to be a part of the conversation no matter who you are,” Wild Wing Cafe marketing manager Simone Bruderer says.


Carryout and Catering

According to Nielsen, more than 111 million U.S. viewers watched last season’s Super Bowl, reported to be the largest television viewing audience in American history. As the Super Bowl cements its reputation as the nation’s largest unofficial house party, many restaurants focus their efforts on driving carryout, catering, and delivery traffic.

Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest wing day of the year for the 35-unit, South Carolina–based Wild Wing Cafe chain, Bruderer reports. Two weeks before kickoff, every carryout bag leaving a Wild Wing Cafe restaurant includes some piece of marketing collateral, typically a catering menu, aimed at tempting Super Bowl Sunday orders.

“We feel carryout and catering are our best shot at getting sales, given how popular house parties are,” Bruderer says.

Russo notes that his 40-unit chain makes more deliveries on Super Bowl Sunday than any other day of the year. He prepares for the onslaught by staffing extra drivers and cooks, knowing that his restaurants must execute in a tight, intense two- to three-hour window.

“Without the delivery component, we wouldn’t score the results we do on Super Bowl Sunday,” he says.

For last year’s Super Bowl, Old Chicago countered the aggressive offers of the nation’s powerhouse pizzerias with a bold carryout offer of its own: $10 off any order over $20. Murphy called the promotion an unequivocal success, saying it drove traffic and sales.

“Our average ticket was actually in the $40 range, so people didn’t just climb over the minimum requirement,” Murphy says.

At Quaker Steak & Lube, Super Bowl Sunday is the busiest carryout day of the year, according to senior director of marketing Megan Duniec. The Pennsylvania-based chain with more than 60 units encourages its operators to get creative with marketing endeavors on the local level to fuel sales. In past years, one Quaker Steak & Lube outlet partnered with a local furniture store for a recliner giveaway in conjunction with the Super Bowl, while other units hyped a flat-screen television giveaway.

It is, however, the convenience of Quaker Steak & Lube restaurants’ Wingo Window, which allows customers to pick up their pre-ordered goods without having to leave their cars, that might be the chain’s biggest game-day play.

“The bucket of wings is our signature … and to provide that to customers in such a convenient way is definitely a plus,” Duniec says.

For this year’s big game in Glendale, Arizona, Quaker Steak & Lube launched a social media promotion in October in which fans voted for one of four new sauce flavors. At presstime, Quaker Steak & Lube was poised to announce the winning sauce at the end of the year and introduce the sauce into its restaurants on Super Bowl Sunday.

“Our sauces set us apart from the competition, and the debut of a new sauce gives people another reason to come see us on Super Bowl Sunday,” Duniec says, adding that the sauce promotion’s Super Bowl Sunday tie-in underscores just how important the championship game is to The Lube’s business.

“Frankly, there was no other day we even considered [for the new sauce’s release],” Duniec says. “It makes perfect sense for us because Super Bowl Sunday is the day people are most excited about wings.”


End Game Results

With house parties gaining so much attention on Super Bowl Sunday, many restaurants report sluggish dine-in business during the game. Even so, silver linings exist for fortuitously positioned restaurants or those with savvy playbooks.

While Murphy acknowledges that most Old Chicago restaurants see a significant drop-off in business once the game starts, last season’s game featuring the Denver Broncos was an eye-opening exception. With approximately one-third of Old Chicago’s locations in Colorado, dine-in sales at the chain’s Colorado-based units jumped 7 percent compared with the previous year’s Super Bowl.

“That shows what this game can do for restaurants, particularly if a local team is involved,” Murphy says.

With no guarantee of the Broncos making a repeat appearance in this season’s final game, Murphy says Old Chicago leaders are toying with the idea of an all-you-can-eat pizza deal or pizza-and-wing buffets to lure dine-in traffic.

“When you serve pizza and wings, two items that fit so seamlessly with football, you want to capture as much business as you can on Super Bowl Sunday,” he says. “Getting the carryout business is wonderful and a real priority for us, but the potential in the dining room can’t be overlooked.”

To woo customers into his eateries, Russo looks beyond the game’s narrow Sunday window. Last year, his Houston-based chain ran a Super Bowl weekend special featuring craft beer flights of four different 5-ounce pours for $9.95.

“This got people coming into our doors and we looked at it as the kickoff to our Super Bowl weekend,” Russo says, adding that the promotion afforded his restaurants a last-minute opportunity to push its carryout and delivery options, including its attention-grabbing 28-inch pizza.

Quaker Steak & Lube, meanwhile, offers wing and beer specials on Super Bowl Sunday for its dine-in customers, who can enjoy a rich audio-visual environment with flat screens and surround sound. Duniec says making a strong impression on Super Bowl Sunday can spark results throughout the year and entice people to return for future sporting events, such as March Madness.

“People can come for the Super Bowl and see what we’re all about,” she says.

Murphy embraces a similar logic at Old Chicago, saying Super Bowl Sunday can deliver a far-reaching ripple effect. Customers who enjoy Old Chicago on Super Bowl Sunday, he contends, are more likely to return to the chain the next time they are looking to blend food, drink, and sports. Additionally, Old Chicago pizzas carried into house parties build brand awareness and drive future sales.

Wild Wing Cafe’s Bruderer also champions Super Bowl Sunday’s ability to spark repeat business, and says the day helps the chain foster stronger relationships with guests, particularly dine-in patrons. Because Wild Wing Cafe’s tables do not turn as frequently on Super Bowl Sunday, since customers typically arrive early and stay for the duration of a game that can approach four hours, Bruderer says staff can engage guests on a personal level and plant seeds for future visits to Wild Wing Cafe.

“Super Bowl Sunday is not just one busy day, but a wonderful opportunity to build relationships that we can tap into throughout the year, especially given how passionate people are about sports,” she says.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Marketing & Promotions