Buffalo Wild Wings (“B-Dubs”) announced on November 15, 2016 the appointment of a new chief information officer . As competition continues to increase in the casual-dining space that B-Dubs occupies, restaurants are increasingly turning to digital initiatives to grow revenues and improve operational processes.
On the customer-facing side, multiple studies have indicated that online review platforms including Yelp and TripAdvisor have dramatic effects on restaurants’ customer growth. One study notes that “an increase in a restaurant’s rating by half a star on Yelp, where ratings are one through five, could make the difference between a full house at dinnertime and scattered customers” . This is both an opportunity and a challenge for B-Dubs. If some of B-Dub’s restaurants are in less trafficked areas, a single Yelp review has a more dramatic effect (either positive or negative) on future traffic to that restaurant.
Many restaurants including B-Dubs have started incorporating technology as part of the customer interaction, ordering and payment process. While this presents an opportunity for B-Dubs in that order fulfillment is less prone to variability due to a server’s backlog or human error (and also saves on labor costs), it presents its own challenges. Per the National Restaurant Association, “Forty-two percent [of consumers] say technology makes restaurant visits more difficult to navigate, versus 37 percent a year ago” .
On the operations-side, B-Dubs is also presented with new improvement opportunities. Restaurants are incorporating enterprise risk planning software to increase visibility to sales as well as supply and labor costs.
What they’re doing:
B-Dubs is using digital technology to engage customers more effectively, and also to increase information transparency.
Although B-Dubs has little control over customer Yelp reviews, the company has sought to create a deeper connection with customers through social media; the company has more than 12 million fans on Facebook, and last year won the Restaurant Social Media Index Award for “the most beloved brand of the year, which was based solely on consumer sentiment” .
The company also has tablets installed at each table in approximately 90% of its locations . The company currently uses the tablets to deliver content and entertainment, but envisions using the tablets to facilitate order-placing with buttons such as “Wing me” or “Beer me” 6. See image below.
The company leverages point-of-sale technology to improve operations at each of its locations. In its annual report, the company notes that “visibility to sales, cost of sales, labor and other operating metrics is provided to company-owned restaurant management through web-based decision support and analysis tools” . This provides management with better insight into customer ordering patterns and demand, allowing them more efficiently to match demand with supply. In addition, B-Dub’s system is available in almost all of its locations, including franchises, allowing management to monitor and have more control over franchised operations.
What they should do:
B-Dubs has experienced higher labor costs in the past year, but expects to benefit from its tablet ordering process once its payment technology is fully integrated. While it’s easy to see the information and cost benefits from this technology, it’s also easy to see how the company could hit some bumps in not having human servers.
If, for instance, the ordering technology isn’t so easy to understand, customers might see the tablet ordering process as confusing. There’s also the paradox that B-Dubs aims to create the best “customer experience”, but is replacing human servers with iPads. Lastly, there’s the concern of how tablet ordering would affect customer service. Yelp itself states that “the best way to succeed on Yelp is by focusing on great customer service” .
To mitigate these concerns, I’d suggest keeping a few servers on board as touch-points and supervisors, especially during the transition to tablet ordering.
I’d also double down on server training as it relates to using the new technology, and rounding out the “experience” on the human side as well, i.e., training the servers they do keep in topics the company knows are of interest to MVPs such as sports, music, and good food.
(786 Words, Not Including this Disclosure)
 “Buffalo Wild Wings, Inc. Names Santiago Abraham as Chief Information Officer,” November 15, 2016, Business Wire, http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20161115006722/en/Buffalo-Wild-Wings-Names-Santiago-Abraham-Chief, accessed November 2016.
 Evanskevans, Kate, “Dining: Online reviews affect restaurants, potential patrons,” August 6, 2015, Wicked Local, http://swampscott.wickedlocal.com/article/20150806/NEWS/150808051, accessed November 2016.
 “Diners Like Food with a Side of Tech,” [ENTER DATE], http://www.restaurant.org/News-Research/News/Diners-like-food-with-a-side-of-tech, accessed November 2016.
 “Technology & Creating Demand: The Digitization of the Foodservice Consumer’s Experience,” President’s Conference 2014, November 2014, http://www.ifmaworld.com/media/231940/2014%20PC%20Exec%20Summary%20Technology%20and%20Creating%20Demand.pdf, accessed November 2016.
 Upton, Nicholas, “Buffalo Wild Wings Investing in Tech, Expansion and Loyalty,” August 25, 2015, Restaurant Finance Monitor, http://www.restfinance.com/Restaurant-Finance-Across-America/August-2015/Buffalo-Wild-Wings-Investing-in-Tech-Expansion-and-Loyalty/, accessed November 2016.
 Buffalo Wild Wings, 2015 Annual Report, page 9, http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/BWLD/3232754674x0x881352/FFA0EAAF-7477-4C53-B9D3-818CC27D1D8A/BWLD_2015.12.27_10-K_FINAL.pdf, accessed November 2016.