The wing is king at Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, but the 2012 MenuMasters Awards recipient in the Menu Revamp category is broadening its appeal with plenty of other flavor sensations, as well.
The Minneapolis-based, sports-driven casual-dining chain rolled out no fewer than 10 new items when it recrafted its menu last April. In doing so it burnished touchstones of the concept, such as shareable food, customization and bold flavors. Two new stackable burger creations boosted the chain’s appeal to male sports fans. At the same time, Buffalo Wild Wings went in exciting directions with Fish Tacos, a Spinach ArtichokeFlatbread that plays off the popularity of spinach-artichoke dip, and a spicy-sweet Asian Zing Chicken Salad that leverages one of its signature sauces.
“Wings are in the name, but guests continue to look for new options that will further enhance their dining experience,” said Sylvia Matzke-Hill, director for guest experience and product development at the 834-unit chain.
One of the largest menu updates in the history of the brand, the 10-item revamp spanned a year from conception to rollout, encompassing physical changes to the design of the menu as well as new and reformulated products.
“We had developed a number of new items, so we thought it would be good to do it all at one time and provide the guest with a new experience,” said Matzke-Hill.
Items designed specifically for sharing include the new Soft Pretzels, billed as artisan-style and served warm with queso cheese sauce or the guest’s favorite Buffalo Wild Wings signature sauce.
“It’s one of those items that you can’t get at home that gives you that ‘game’ feel,” said Matzke-Hill. “It is a natural for us.”
Also intended as fun pass-arounds are Southwest Bites — crushed tri-color tortillas with zesty fillings like queso, spicy chicken and jalapeños — and Hot Dog Slammers, a trio of miniature beef dogs.
Guests often customize items like those with any of the concept’s 16 signature sauces and four signature seasonings, which are called out in a menu section entitled Customize Your Grub. The house condiments are important points of differentiation, as well as ways to engage customers, Matzke-Hill said. More than 85 percent of guests use them to customize their meals, she said.
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Of the 10 new items, the two stacked burgers required the most developmental effort and training time due to the number of ingredients involved and the burgers’ unusual builds, Matzke-Hill said.
For instance, in the Screamin’ Nacho Burger, corn tortilla chips add texture and flavor to a pair of burger patties topped with the chain’s Chipotle BBQ seasoning, pepper Jack cheese, jalapeños, pico de gallo and Southwestern ranch dressing.
The palate impression is “amazing,” Matzke-Hill said.
“You get the texture and flavor of the chips along with the juices and flavor of the meat. And you have the jalapeños and the pico, so you get the cool and the heat and the crunch,” she said.
Also sporting a unique construction is the Juicy Steak Burger, which nestles sliced steak, fried onion rings, pepper Jack cheese and the guest’s choice of signature sauce between a pair of burger patties.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of the revamp was coordinating all the moving parts, Matzke-Hill said.
“There was a purchasing aspect, a quality assurance aspect and a training aspect that all had to work together,” she said. She credited vice president for purchasing Kevin McCradden, director of learning and development Sally Lannier, creative manager Doug Rea, and logistics manager Nancy Kocur with playing key roles in the process.
Industry observers have noticed the breadth and impact of the revamped menu.
“Obviously, they need to have good wings, which they do, but growing their menu to have greater appeal is definitely a good strategy for them,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of research at consulting firm Technomic Inc. in Chicago.
Tristano noted that the new stacked burgers help the chain compete against better-burger restaurants and appeal to young males who want hearty sandwiches, while the new shareable items are good for Millennials who like a variety of smaller dishes.
The opportunity to fine-tune items with signature sauces caught the eye of menu consultant Ross Kamens, principal of Revolutionary Flavors in Victor, Idaho.
“Customization is not a differentiator for restaurants anymore; it’s really what customers expect,” said Kamens. “So I think they were wise to provide that platform.”
Kamens said that the tortilla chips in the Screamin’ Nacho Burger could prompt a positive emotional response when the customer takes a bite.
“The textural components are clearly what will provide a craveable experience,” he said. “When I was a kid, I would always put my chips in my ham sandwich and crunch away.”
The menu revamp also furthers the evolution of flavors at Buffalo Wild Wings. Take the Asian Zing Chicken Salad, in which the signature Asian Zing sauce, made with chile pepper, soy and ginger, adds spicy and sweet nuances to greens, cabbage, grilled chicken and Mandarin oranges. The sauce brings greater depth of flavor, not just heat, Matzke-Hill said.
“We went through the spicy-heat craze in the last 10 years,” Kamens said. “Now, we are leaning more toward providing flavor and heat in balance.”