Dickey’s to debut a brick-and-mortar store for its virtual wings brand

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Dive Brief:

  • Dickey’s Restaurant Brands has announced it is building a brick-and-mortar restaurant for its virtual chicken wing concept, Wing Boss, set to open in the Dallas suburb of Addison, Texas, later this summer, according to a press release sent to Restaurant Dive. The delivery-only concept made its debut in March and has since expanded to more than 70 locations.
  • The 1,500-square-foot location will include a full-service bar, televisions, Wing Boss’ hickory-smoked bone-in or boneless wings and its signature drinks. It will also offer group packs for to-go orders.
  • Several virtual chicken wing concepts have been rolled out throughout the past year and a half by heavyweights like Bloomin’ Brands’, Brinker International and Applebee’s. None of these concepts, however, have extended into standalone brick-and-mortar spaces.

Dive Insight:

Dickey’s transition of Wing Boss into a more expensive brick-and-mortar model reflects the parent company’s confidence in the virtual brand’s longevity. In a statement, Dickey’s CEO Laura Rea Dickey said the company has seen “impressive results” with the smoked chicken wings brand.

It’s an interesting choice since tying the brand to a real estate obligation removes the flexibility afforded by a virtual-only concept. But this “clicks to bricks” trend was starting to take shape before the pandemic, as concepts chased an omnichannel presence to meet consumers’ diversifying preferences to access food. 

The strong demand for chicken wings may be enough to sustain this strategy, however.  According to Vox, consumers’ demand for wings has increased by 7% throughout the past year and a half alone. Wings proved to be popular during the pandemic as they travel well for delivery and takeout orders. 

Simultaneously, Wing Boss is leveraging a pent-up demand for dine-in. Hudson Riehle, National Restaurant Association senior vice president of Research and Knowledge, said last week that such pent-up demand will continue to drive sales and recovery in the industry and has already proved as much, with May restaurant sales exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

That’s not to say a brick-and-mortar wings concept won’t have its challenges, however. Competition is intensifying from not just from rival virtual brands, but also from Wingstop, which has turned into a juggernaut during the pandemic. While other QSRs struggled to grow sales, Q2 2020 was Wingstop’s best quarter since it went public in 2015. That competition has led to sharp increases in wing costs and concerns over a supply shortage.

Still, Wingstop CEO Charlie Morrison has tied his company’s success to being in a “category of one,” without a lot of brick-and-mortar peers in the chicken wing space. This could present an opportunity for Wing Boss to expand its presence beyond a digital app and into more physical spaces.

It’s worth noting that while Wing Boss seems to be the first wings concept to move from a virtual-only to a brick-and-mortar presence, it is not the only concept in the industry at large to do so. Delivery startup Deliveroo added a physical space in 2018, while DoorDash opened several convenience stores late last year. In the spring, reservations app OpenTable opened its first physical restaurant as well.

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