With a rapidly growing footprint, Buffalo Wings & Rings developed a company-wide program to give back—in a major way.
Buffalo Wings & Rings is no stranger to philanthropy. But in years past, the 70-unit chain has taken a decentralized approach, with its franchisees developing unique initiatives on the ground level. CEO Nader Masadeh felt like now was a perfect time to bring it all together.
Starting September 26 and running through November 13, Buffalo Wings & Rings is featuring a “Chip In for the Cause” promotion for Breast Cancer Awareness Month across its base, which stretches 13 states and six countries.
“We’ve done it at the unit level for a number of years,” Masadeh says. “And it’s different promotions at different locations. This year, since this is a critical issue for our chain, we decided to do a more global approach with all of the units doing one promotion.”
Masadeh also notes that Buffalo Wings & Rings has matured into a position of real force. The brand has enjoyed nine years of consecutive growth and saw its average unit sales bump 2.9 percent this past quarter alone. Year-to-date, the numbers grew an industry-defying 11.4 percent. What makes this even more impressive is the reality that Buffalo Wings & Rings is still a relative newcomer to this global segment, long shadowed by one of the industry’s largest players, which just so happens to share a similar name. Buffalo Wings & Rings started in 1984, but was purchased by new ownership in 2005. Since then, the company has sprouted 66 new stores, including 50 stateside and 20 overseas.
R&D Chef Elliot Jablonsky says Masadeh promotes a culture that believes in giving back. And now that the corporate tools are in place, it was simply about executing a widespread plan—the first for Buffalo Wings & Rings of this scope.
“Nader is a very charitable guy and he breeds the importance of charity work,” Jablonsky says. “Charity work, charity donation, charity everything. As many layers as we can do for others, Nader is about doing more. He not only encourages and stresses it, but he actually almost requires it.”
Jablonsky credits the marketing team with the details. A manufacturer brought him the pink chips, and the creative wheel began to spin.
For every pink chip appetizer on the brand’s new LTO menu, Buffalo Wings & Rings will donate $1 to Breast Cancer Awareness. Jablonsky developed the Fat Tire Beer Cheese, which also comes with deep-fried pretzel bites.
The Not Your Mama’s Buffalo Chicken Dip mixes smoked Gouda, Boursin, Cheddar, Pepper Jack, and the house’s Blue Cheese dip. Their house signature Hot Buffalo sauce is mixed in for a kick. Also, there’s a Blushing Buffalo drink in the promotion. It’s a chilled mix of Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka with pineapple and cranberry juice, served in a martini glass with a twist of the pink ribbon.
Crispy Cauliflower Wings, Honey Sriracha BBQ Wings, and Chocolate Croissants round out the menu. “I refer to this as crossover,” Jablonsky says of the items. “Guests are going to be more inclined to try something they’re familiar with even if it’s done differently. We take variations on familiar and make it better.”
The process of rolling out such a nuanced promotion was a six-month process, Masadeh explains. After the menu was devised, the food was vetted. The company had to make sure its supply chain could support the ingredients. It also had to be certain each unit featured the equipment and kitchen—staff and hardware—to execute effectively.
Buffalo Wings & Rings then set out to make sure it would actually sell. A thumbs up from focus groups sent it to test units, a process that lasted a month and allowed the company to identify and fix any unforeseen issues.
“It’s very hard,” Jablonsky says. “Anytime that you’re working with multiple layers of people it’s going to be complicated. It’s not just the people who are working in the stores, it’s everyone involved in the distribution, from corporate to trainers to stores to distributors. There’s a lot of layers and lot of things that go into play in order to roll our something different that you’re doing or something new.”
As is the case with any LTO, marketing propelled the success of the launch. Training materials, such as videos, were given to a launch team to share at all locations. They worked individually with each store and answered any questions, as well as trained staff.
“Then we have a launch week and it goes into the stores with all the promotional items how to promote it, and off to the races,” Masadeh says.
Buffalo Wings & Rings is promoting its message on a variety of channels. Firstly, social media is pushing the initiative. Within the four walls, tents and other table advertisements talk about the program. The entire staff at each location is also donning new uniforms, which feature the brand’s logo in pink with a ribbon intertwined. Along with the new menu, the servers are trained to talk about the program and upsell it for a cause.
“There’s a process behind it,” Masadeh says, “and vetting, and all departments signing off. When you become a bigger chain it’s a little more difficult to launch these initiatives if you want to launch them successfully consistently across all the restaurants.”
The key, he notes, is to instill a belief throughout the organization. “I think our team here at the corporate office believes wholeheartedly in this cause,” he says. “There always has to be internal motivation. There’s a belief inside our company that this is a cause worth standing behind. Our franchisees wholeheartedly believe in this cause as well. We stand behind it as a team. And if you stand behind it as a team, you’re better off with a bigger impact than a localized, decentralized approach. A little bit here, a little bit there kind of loses its intensity.”
Masadeh says Buffalo Wings & Rings didn’t want to set a goal or financial benchmark for the program. Instead, the hope is that it grows in time and breadth. And the dollars simply follow. They are also selling T-shirts for $10 that benefit the cause. “You try not to set a goal because it defeats the purpose of standing behind this cause. It has to come from your heart,” he says. “I don’t believe setting a goal for something because then it becomes more financial driven and I did not want that. It might help to incentivize people. But for it to be impactful for me it had to come from your heart.”