An expanded menu, including grilled chicken salads and sandwiches, and a larger footprint with more seats and widescreen televisions than the traditional units positions this new sports concept for an appealing entry into new markets.
Wingstop Sports. The first unit, a franchised operation, opened in Brownsville, Texas, and two more will open this fall.The interior captures the bold brick-red, orange and green colors that bring about a sense of fun and comfort. Large-screen televisions display sports events throughout the day and night.Since its inception in 1994, Wingstop owners put this concept on a fast growth track, opening 511 units in 18 years. In December 2011, the chicken-oriented chain took flight in a new direction, venturing into a sports-themed concept,
"We've taken our original restaurant theme a step further with the addition of several new menu items and combined the original platform with a larger footprint for parties and more dine-in traffic," says Jim Flynn, executive chairman of the board for Wingstop Restaurants.
The first Wingstop Sports occupies 2,800 square feet and seats 28 customers. "The size of this restaurant was determined by the space available to a franchisee in Brownsville who wanted to develop this concept," says John McDonald, AIA, vice president of design and construction. "It's a little smaller than we'd like, so the future restaurants will be about 3,500 square feet and hold 140 seats."
Cities such as Brownsville, with a population of about 175,000, seem to be a better market for Wingstop Sports than large cities such as Dallas, which is home to nearly 1.2 million people. "We believe we'll make a bigger splash at first in cities such as Brownsville, which is less saturated with sports-themed restaurants," McDonald says.
"Wingstop Sports is like Wingstop on steroids," McDonald adds. "Traditional restaurants have three to four 42-inch televisions, and at the Sports restaurant we have eight 54-inch big-screen televisions." The bar serves beer, wine and margaritas. "We don't want a full-service bar because we want to encourage families to frequent the restaurants." An architect by trade, McDonald has worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years and joined Wingstop in 2000.
When approaching the Brownsville location, guests see a sign with the standard Wingstop logo with the addition of the word "sports" beneath. "The overall Wingstop Sports concept is intended to be an extension of the Wingstop brand, and we wanted to make that obvious," says Kathy Diamond-Ulepic, principal of Kathy Diamond Design Associates. She and her partner, Juerg Schmid, served as the brand image designers for the traditional concept and the sports concept.
Also conveying the sports theme, the exterior awnings display black and white referee stripes and the paint stands out with bold earth-tone hues that give the building a strong street presence during the day and at night.
The interior of Wingstop Sports contains many familiar Wingstop elements, such as the large airplane mural in the dining area evoking memories of the pre-jet engine era of the 1930s and 1940s. Instead of the traditional unit's trademarked framed flyer photos, the sports unit features three-dimensional athletic wall art, including local football team helmets, footballs, baseballs, soccer balls, football jerseys and sports-themed banners hanging from the ceiling.
"The local teams are recognized, and they like coming here to see themselves represented," McDonald says.
The interior design of the sports unit also includes stained concrete floors and mosaic tiles highlighting the ordering counter, bar top and drink rail in the waiting area, all of which contain a solid surface material. Most walls contain a standard Wingstop finish paint with a green chair rail and corrugated metal wainscot. "V-groove wood paneling stained with a dark wood finish was added to the entire front elevation to give the space a comfortable feeling," Diamond-Ulepic says. "And we added a new, bright orange paint color on two walls to enhance the comfort level of the dining area."
Another new feature that contributes to customer comfort, the wood shutters on all windows help control the light levels. "It's important not to have glare during the daytime operating hours because it makes television viewing difficult if it's too bright in the space," Diamond-Ulepic says.
The current 2,800-square-foot restaurant contains a 935-square-foot kitchen, bar and cashier area; a 235-square-foot cooler/freezer area; a 1,350-square-foot seating section; a 100-square-foot waiting area; and a 400-square-foot patio with 24 seats. The 3,500-square-foot restaurant will include a 1,101-square-foot kitchen, bar and cashier area; a 181-square-foot cooler/freezer area; a 1,690-square-foot seating section; a 239-square-foot waiting area; and a 500-square-foot patio with 28 seats. McDonald anticipates less takeout and more in-store dining.
The biggest challenge McDonald faces when designing restaurants is fitting all the components into spaces of different sizes and configurations. "When we go into shopping centers, not every space is the same, so we try to be sensitive to how much dining space to take out or leave in," he says. "It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle to balance out the kitchen space with seating. And of course we never have enough storage space available."
Working with local health departments to understand the production and holding systems also presents challenges. "We've had to write term papers explaining our system of preparing chicken and holding sauces safely," McDonald says. Proprietary sauces made by a manufacturer are held at room temperature in storage and again when placed on the line for assembly.
Upon entering the restaurant, customers step up to the ordering counter, place their order with a staff member and pay. They then proceed to the self-service beverage area where they can select tea, coffee and water or use a freestyle soda machine that offers 120 flavors. Customers then find seats and wait for a staff member to deliver their orders. The approximate time from ordering to service is 14 minutes.
When staff members complete taking orders, they push a button on the register, which delivers a list of the requested items to the kitchen expeditor.
An efficient back-of-the-house design allows staff to fill orders quickly. Some food deliveries arrive daily and others three times a week. Staff place menu items into a walk-in cooler, walk-in freezer or dry storage. They later take food out for preparation as needed. In the cold prep area, staff cut vegetables with knives. "Blenders are used to mix the marinades for the fresh chicken products and for the blue cheese and ranch salsas served with the menu items," says Sean Murphy, director of research and development.
Throughout the day, staff prepare yeast rolls in a convection oven and proofer.
At all Wingstop restaurants, a fryer bank serves as the heart of the operation. The new Sports prototype in Brownsville features five 70-pound open fryers, including one for fresh-cut, seasoned french fries, one for boneless wings and two for fresh bone-in wings, which are the most popular wings sold at all Wingstop restaurants. A table with an ice bath holds bone-in wings so staff can access the wings easily on the line. Also on the line, a standup refrigerator holds various other chicken products.
In keeping with sustainable practices at traditional Wingstop restaurants, Wingstop Sports staff contracts with a third-party vendor for recycling.
After staff cook the chicken, they pass it to another staff member who tosses it with one of 10 proprietary sauces arranged in stainless steel bowls on a counter. The 10 flavors are atomic, Cajun, original hot, mild, hickory smoked bbq, lemon pepper, garlic parmesan, Hawaiian, teriyaki and Louisiana rub.
Another piece of equipment, the flattop grill is also crucial to production because it allows Wingstop Sports to expand its menu. The staff sizzle jalapenos, onions and tomatoes for the salsas, and cook chicken for salads, appetizers, quesadillas, fajitas and sandwiches. Staff pass the cooked chicken to the back-to-back salad stations for further assembly of ingredients. An undercounter refrigerator and pan rails hold classic pearl potato salad and chilled carrot and celery sticks. Hot steam wells hold salsas and sides such as bourbon double-baked beans.
All orders funnel toward the expo station, where a staff member checks and places them on a counter for waiters to pick up and deliver to customers. "We don't need heat lamps because no order sits long enough," Murphy says.
As Wingstop Sports prepares to open new units, the company is considering menu revisions. Though the basic cooking processes will remain the same, Murphy says he is looking at higher-speed grills that will improve efficiency. "We'll be building in more flexibility for efficiency during slow and busier periods," McDonald says. Four basic stations will funnel to the expeditor and pass-through window: french fries and appetizers; flattop grilled chicken products and a nearby salad and sandwich station; a saucing station and fry station for bone-in chicken (the sauce table will have two sides so only one will be necessary during slower periods); and the area for boneless chicken and buffalo chicken sandwiches.
During its short lifespan, Wingstop Sports continues to receive positive reviews. The concept rollout featured an appearance by Troy Aikman, retired Dallas Cowboys quarterback and a Wingstop national spokesman and board member. Aikman's picture also appears on the website to promote the Wingstop brand. The future positioning of Wingstop Sports will determine its success as a small or major extension of the Wingstop brand.