Buffalo Wild Wings is set to unveil a new model for its sports bar/restaurant this week. The chain announced today it will open its first GO model on May 13 in Atlanta, GA, and is designed specifically for takeout and delivery orders. Depending on its success, the new store format could serve as a blueprint for other casual dining restaurants looking to transition to more off-premises-focused formats for the future.
If you’ve been to a Buffalo Wild Wings in the past, you’ll know the restaurant specializes in big dining rooms where customers pack in to watch sports games on the massive television sets that hang on pretty much every available bit of wall space there is. But thanks to the pandemic, packed sports bars are decidedly a thing of the past. Buffalo Wild Wings clearly knows this, as the chain said in the announcement it has been converting its 1,250-plus locations into versions of this to-go-only format for the last six weeks.
The new 1,800 sq. ft. GO store in Atlanta will still have some TVs as well as limited seating where guests can wait for their orders without missing any of the game. But, as mentioned above, the store is dedicated to off-premises orders. Customers that order ahead will be able to pick up their food from heated lockers. The store will also feature a walk-up counter for placing orders.
In a statement, Buffalo Wild Wings’ Chief Operating Officer John Bowie said that the company’s takeout and delivery business has grown over 140 percent over the last six weeks — more or less since shelter-in-place orders hit the U.S. What’s worked so far has largely informed the new GO store format.
Other popular casual dining chains will also have to incorporate more to-go-friendly formats in the coming months to meet the requirements for social distancing. Some already are. At the end of March, Outback Steakhouse announced the first U.S. unit of its fast-casual standalone concept Aussie Grill, which is basically a food court version of Outback. Shake Shack announced its own off-premises-only Shack Track stores earlier this month. Some chains, like IHOP and The Cheesecake Factory, were unrolling to-go-focused standalone concepts long before the pandemic.
Sports bar or no, the days of crowded dining rooms are gone — possibly forever, at least for a couple of years. Pivots to off-premises-focused concepts, as Buffalo Wild Wings and others have done, will soon enough become the norm for those chains with the money to overhaul their operations. While that’s bad news for sports fans who like watching the game out, it’s good news for businesses looking for clues as to how to reimagine their restaurants in a post-pandemic era.