Buffalo Wild Wings
$1.17 Billion With a laudable 23.2 percent sales growth over 2012—the highest in the FSR 50—Buffalo Wild Wings shows little sign of taming its wild progress. The brand has nearly 1,000 units in the U.S. and believes it has the potential to hit 1,700 locations in North America, using a half-and-half mix of company-owned and franchised units. In May, it celebrated a multi-level, 15,000-square-foot restaurant opening in Times Square.
BWW benefits from several factors in the 2014 dining environment: increased hype in the sports bar and wings segments; a slew of beers available on tap and in bottles; and a lower cost of doing business, thanks to a 10.6 percent decrease in the cost of chicken wings in 2013, while its full-service competitors must contend with rising beef prices.
So far this year, BWW has partnered with NTN Buzztime to bring tabletop tablets to all restaurants by the end of 2015. It also announced plans to introduce online ordering in an effort to add momentum to its take-out business, which accounted for 14 percent of 2013 sales.
$1.0 Billion In 2013, Red Robin opened 22 company-owned restaurants, including one unit of its fast-casual prototype, Red Robin's Burger Works. It also remodeled 19 units, bringing the total units remodeled over the last two years to 32. Expect to see 50 more locations remodeled this year, along with 20 company-owned openings of the full-service brand.
Other upgrades in 2013 included a new menu format, new plating and food presentation, and a different media plan. While previous media was built around Red Robin's limited-time offerings, the campaign "A Million Reasons" shifts to a broader strategy that encourages choosing Red Robin for more occasions overall.
Burgers represent 46 percent of total food sales, but Red Robin has done an admirable job defining itself outside of burgers and bringing attention to its beverage program, introducing can-crafted beer cocktails last summer and wine milkshakes this spring. To further differentiate itself, Red Robin also upgraded to an interactive allergen menu in May.
$981 Million A sales growth of 0.8 percent might sound meager, but for Bob Evans Restaurants, fiscal 2013 was strong, considering how many days its stores were closed. Bob Evans tallied 1,300 closed days across its portfolio while it remodeled 195 locations with the Farm Fresh Refresh redesign, which encompasses a brighter color scheme, new bakery display, dedicated carry-out area, gift card displays, redesigned retail space, and a mural depicting the heritage of the brand. But the effort has clearly paid off: Farm Fresh Refresh restaurants experienced sales increases of approximately 3.7 percent compared with non-redesigned restaurants, which recorded a scant same-store sales increase of 0.1 percent.
With its focus on remodeling, Bob Evans did not open any new restaurants, but in 2014, the company plans to complete its refresh project and open four locations. To promote new openings and remodeled units, Bob Evans increases advertising in the market area. It spent approximately $33 million on restaurant advertising and marketing last year, and with nearly 350 restaurants to remodel in fiscal 2014, that number is expected to grow significantly.
$951 Million Waffle House posted a 1.4 percent gain in sales last year and added 33 stores, bringing its total unit count to 1,700. While other brands crank out redesigns, updated menus, and technological improvements, Waffle House is perfectly content to serve up Southern-style breakfast and hash browns in its signature yellow-and-black units, a cultural icon in the South. Waffle House's sign hasn't been updated in 40 years, and its laminated menus represent a throwback to 1950s diners across America, when the brand was established—a sentiment that has clearly worked to drive sales in the 25 states where the brand operates.
P.F. Chang's China Bistro
$896 Million While sales dipped 3.2 percent last year, P.F. Chang's remains the top full-service Asian concept in the U.S., and the future is optimistic, as Millennials gravitate toward Asian flavors. The China Bistro has kept up its strategy of unveiling seasonal menus and limited-time promotions, but may need to rethink how it is appealing to its consumers. Recent moves suggest it is doing just that: In April, the chain announced it was partnering with DataSource, a managed services provider, which will provide P.F. Chang's with supply chain management services, training materials, multi-channel marketing support, and menu management technology.
$828 Million Last year Hooter's turned 30, unveiled a sleek updated logo, rolled out a late-night menu, selected a new advertising agency (Skiver), launched the "Step Into Awesome" campaign, and created a new store prototype. The new design has high exposed ceilings, painted ductwork, and cypress wood walls to present a brighter space. The bar has been given a central location in the restaurant and updated with swiveled bar stools, new booth seating, and high-back chairs at all tables.
2014 holds a lot of promise for Hooters, as well. It is continuing the rollout of the prototype to more locations and expanding into new international territories that include Thailand, Brazil, Japan, and China. Earlier this year, Hooters launched its HootClub mobile app and customer loyalty program, which allows the brand to learn the average age and menu preferences of customers and use that data to customize promotions.
$775 Million Guest traffic slowed at BJ's in the latter half of 2012, and the trend continued into 2013. Leaders, including Greg Trojan, who joined as CEO and president in February 2013, spent last year developing the next phase of BJ's strategy to reinvigorate restaurant sales. Focus areas include food quality and innovation, affordability, and branding.
BJ's launched a new menu at the end of last year that coincided with the debut of its new brand positioning, which emphasized value, atmosphere, menu variety, and food and beverage under the tagline "One For All." It also saw continued adoption of its Mobile Pay technology that allows guests to pay from the table using their smartphones.
BJ's has one of the highest AUVs ($5.3 million) among the casual-dining chains. Executives believe the brand, which has 146 locations in 17 states, is still a growth concept with a largely untapped domestic opportunity.
In June, the brand launched an app that allows customers to place orders for dine-in ahead of time and find their meals ready to be served when they arrive at the restaurant. The move is expected to increase efficiency at the restaurants, which can have one-hour waits on weekend evenings.
Carraba's Italian Grill
$710 Million Carraba's renovated 41 locations in 2013 to refresh the restaurants with a more contemporary Italian theme. The average remodel cost of $385,000 per restaurant is about $140,000 more than sister restaurant Outback's remodel cost per restaurant, despite the fact that the average Outback makes $232,000 more than the average Carraba's. Regardless of the costs, Carraba's plans to remodel 30–40 locations in 2014 and is also eyeing expansion beyond the South and East, narrowing in on what the brand considers the top 100 U.S. markets.
Carraba's will continue to use limited-time offers to attract diners, as they provide attractive margins for the restaurant, compelling price points for its guests, and helped the brand achieve a respectable sales bump of 1.9 percent. The Pasta Seconds promotion introduced in 2013, which offered customers the option of a second bowl of pasta, hit the mark with customers and Carraba's profitability objectives.