Its mantra is simple, and can be summed up in three syllables: wings, beer, sports. By the end of 2015, those three things, plus an entire menu of multi-media gaming, music, and food and beverage, will be directly brokered by guests at all of Buffalo Wild Wings’ (BWW, www.buffalowildwings.com) 1,010+ locations. The Minneapolis-based company is currently in roll-out for a tablet solution that fully integrates its Aloha point of sale (www.ncr.com) with NTN Buzztime’s (www.buzztime.com) BEOND entertainment platform.
The tablets will be mounted at the table and pre-loaded with a mix of complimentary and paid entertainment choices, including trivia, poker and other multi-player games and music. Later this year BWW will add its full food and beverage menu. Check settlement for all purchases will be integrated into a single transaction: games, drinks, music, etc., in one bill. And responding to a common request in the sports bar segment, guests will be able to split their checks themselves and pay directly via the tableside tablet.
Already available in 150+ corporate locations, the tablets replace existing trivia consoles and the company is on track for a system wide roll-out by the end of 2015.
In this exclusive Q&A, Hospitality Technology talks to Karen Bird, vice president of information technology for Buffalo Wild Wings, about some of the technical aspects of the project, including its impact on in-store WiFi. Bird also shares feedback on how BWW’s marketing and IT teams collaborated with each other and with suppliers on the project, and offers up her predictions for how mobile will continue to evolve in the restaurant industry.
HT: First, can you give a little background on the decision to overhaul the tablet experience at Buffalo Wild Wings?
We’re an experience restaurant, and we’re always looking for ways to enhance that experience. Buffalo Wild Wings is about wings, beer and sports, and it’s our objective to create the ultimate social experience for sports fans.
As a part of that, we’ve offered tablet devices that are used for game play. They’re about one-foot by one-foot in size, so they take up a lot of table real estate and we can’t bring in additional functionality. At the same time that we were looking to improve the experience, our guests were looking for ordering and payment at the table. We tried to do it five years ago, but technology then wasn’t ready. Then about two years ago, we again started looking at how to update the table experience with something our guests were looking to use. We created a team — our “Guest Experience and Innovation Group”— that brought in an internal team and our partners to bring a new tablet solution into our restaurants.
HT: What were some of your requirements for the solution, in terms of both the application and the hardware?
In terms of the application, we wanted to build a single system for order-and-pay between the gaming and content piece, and food and beverage items. We wanted a single reconciliation process for our servers, and a single interface for adding menu items and updating prices. We started working with our partners to develop an integrated system between the POS and the tableside gaming device. We use NCR’s Aloha POS and we worked with Buzztime for the tablet and gaming application. With this integration, guests can use the tablet to order premium games, music, food and beverages, all through our POS on a single check.
On the hardware side, we knew we didn’t want an iOS device. We wanted something we could lock down and control, and that would also be just large enough for game play but a smaller footprint than our former devices. Buzztime presented us with Samsung’s 7” Galaxy tablet (www.samsung.com/us/business) with a hardened shell, and it was a great solution.
HT: How is the new system impacting your in-store networks? Are you
We do have guest-facing WiFi in all of our restaurants today. But with all of the things that we’re doing and the number of devices, we realized that the current infrastructure wouldn’t support our technology. We’re completely overhauling our in-store networks and piloting business-class guest WiFi from Cisco (www.cisco.com) in our company-owned restaurants. We will segment the network, and we have some pretty high-speed bandwidth requirements. We’ll use a minimum of 35/5 Mbps for the guest and business network, and we’re rolling that out currently.
For Buffalo Wild Wings, events like March Madness, Fantasy Football and the Super Bowl of course, create significant demand on connectivity. When you get 100+ people in your restaurant all using multiple devices, you have to have robust WiFi.
HT: Can you share some insights about the development and roll-out process?
We didn’t get technically involved in actual development work, but we have been very involved in putting together the business requirements. NCR has done a lot of work on the integration side, and our marketing department has worked with them on the visual content development for the tablet.
To date, with what we’ve rolled out, there’s been no officialtraining needed. People — including kids and adults — you put a tablet in their hands, and they know how to use it. As we add more advanced applications, specifically around order and pay, we will need more of an introduction to our guests, but it should be easy and intuitive.
I took my two grandchildren, ages seven and ten, to the restaurant and let them play with the tablets and they absolutely loved them.
HT: This roll-out is yet another example of the cross-over between marketing and technology teams.How did that collaboration play
out for Buffalo Wild Wings?
The guest experience and innovation team is business owner of this project. No project is an IT project any more. IT provides project management, integration, and testing; marketing provides all of the graphic art; and the operations team is responsible for implementation and training.
As to collaboration between technology and marketing, I say, “bring them in early and often.” You have to be part of a team and talk to each other. Not just internally, but especially when you’re relying on vendor partners. We go to Atlanta as a team to meet with NCR. You literally do have to bring everyone together, face to face, to communicate on the project.
With this project, we started about a year ago with a strategic operational planning session and one of the things we started talking about was, what are the other projects IT needs to pay attention to — EMV, for example. We all have EMV staring down at us and that concerns me. So, as an example of how we break down the language barriers and create shared understanding, we literally brought in all the teams for a day-long session to talk about EMV. At the beginning of the day, some people understood it and some didn’t. But by the end of the meeting we had common ground, and that lets you prioritize IT resources across business projects.
HT: When we spoke recently, you mentioned that you see the guests’ own devices as the end-game for ordering and especially payment. How does that reconcile with the application you’re investing in today?
I truly personally believe that the tablet technology we’re working on today is a short-term, interim solution. It’ll provide us the knowledge and understanding we need, but will ultimately transition to a BYOD model on the guests’ own devices. Guests are going to want to do things more and more with their own devices. Having said that, there will still be a population of guests that won’t gravitate towards that model — they’ll still want to be serviced by our team members. I think over the next three-to-four years we’ll start to see this become much more common.