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Architecture + Branding: Buffalo Wild Wings emerges from huddle with amplified design game plan

1-Building a championship caliber team

Buffalo chicken wings have become a staple item at multiple sporting events, bars and restaurants across the United States and Canada. However, casual observation reveals that Buffalo, New York, exhibits an outsized reverence for the chicken wing. Although several theories have circulated over the years and continue to be debated as to the origins of the chicken wing, the city of Buffalo officially declared July 29, 1977 to be Chicken Wing Day (source: wikipedia.org). Buffalo’s Anchor Bar proclaims, and is generally believed, to have first served up the concoction.

BWW - Anchor Bar Buffalo New York

Anchor bar, Main Street, Buffalo, New York (source: wikipedia.org)

Buffalo Wild Wings eventual founding in 1982 can retrace its origins in part to the outsized veneration of the food item by Western New Yorkers. On a trip to Ohio, Buffalo resident James Disbrow and friend Scott Lowery struck out on their search for an authentic Buffalo-style chicken wing (source: wikipedia.org, ir.buffalowildwings.com). Unable to satisfy their craving, they opted to open up their own restaurant.

Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck® opened their first location near The Ohio State University in 1982, began franchising in 1991, and became a publicly traded company in 2003 (source: ir.buffalowildwings.com). Present in the United States, Canada and Mexico, a spate of openings in early 2014 bumped the number of locations to over 1,000 restaurants (source: franchising.com, businesswire.com). Over the years, the brand modified its original trade name to Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, and more recently to Buffalo Wild Wings, or B-Dubs (ir.buffalowildwings.com).

DSC09310 BWW - BWW Arsenal Street Watertown NY

Buffalo Wild Wins, 3/4 side view, Arsenal Street, Watertown, New York

The sports themed casual dining restaurant and bar chain has become a destination of choice for big-game sporting events, beer and wings.

2-Getting on base

The tagline “Wings. Beer. Sports.” succinctly states the brand position with clear focus. This particular focus has surely helped it achieve the ranks of the successful and fast growing restaurant concepts.

DSC08373 BWW - BWW Strip Mall Wonderland Road near Southdale London ON

Buffalo Wild Wings, 3/4 front view, Wonderland Road near Southdale, London, Ontario, Canada

During its 30-plus year existence, Buffalo Wild Wings has applied such sharp focus to areas of design and communications, seeking in part to define, protect and refine its exterior and interior built-environments. At first blush, many Buffalo Wild Wings locations seem to adhere to the prototypical formula. However, several instances reveal that the distinctive exterior brand marks have not been applied en masse.

BWW - BWW 2149 N High Street Columbus OH 5 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, 2149 N High Street, Columbus, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

Reasons for this potential shortfall in optimal branding can be as varied as favouring speed to market by re-using existing buildings, location constraints, neighbourhood sensitivities, historical preservation, locale, and/or zoning. Additionally, Buffalo Wild Wings has a demonstrated history of welcoming different building types into the herd.

BWW - BWW Transformation Randolph and Monroe Detroit MI 2 https___maps.google

Odd Fellows building prior to conversion, Randolph and Monroe, Detroit, Michigan (source: maps.google.com)

BWW - BWW Randolph and Monroe Detroit MI

Buffalo Wild Wings after conversion, Randolph and Monroe, Detroit, Michigan (source: mlive.com)

BWW - BWW Transformation 1620 Niagara Falls Blvd Tonawanda NY 10 https___maps.google

Montana’s prior to conversion, Niagara Falls Blvd, Tonawanda, New York (source: maps.google.com)

BWW - BWW Transformation 1620 Niagara Falls Blvd Tonawanda NY 12 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings during conversion, Niagara Falls Blvd, Tonawanda, New York (source: maps.google.com)

Stand alone, pad locations, power center, strip mall and enclosed mall stores all co-exist within the restaurant chain’s portfolio. Seemingly favouring no specific geometry, shape, size, floor area or even number of floor levels, the brand relies almost entirely on its varied recognizable brand elements such as the winged buffalo logo, awnings or the white, black and yellow brand colours in several instances.

BWW - BWW 404 Englar Rd Westminster MD 3 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, side view, Englar Road ,Westminster, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

BWW - BWW 11363 Montgomery Rd Cincinnati OH 2 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, multi-storey location, 3/4 view, Montgomery Road, Cincinnati, Ohio (source: maps.google.com)

BWW - BWW 2548 East Workman Avenue West Covine CA 2 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, East Workman Avenue, West Covine, California (source: maps.google.com)

BWW - BWW Strip Mall 5143 Wellington Rd Gainesville VA 1 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, strip mall location, Wellington Road, Gainesville, Virginia (source: maps.google.com)

One could even make an argument that the brand has built up such a strong top of mind presence, through its coordinated and focused approach, that the use of a singular brand item can at times be just enough to identify the Buffalo Wild Wings brand.

BWW - BWW Strip Mall 3335 Worthington Blvd Ijamsville MD 1 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, strip mall location, Worthington Boulevard, Ijamsville, Maryland (source: maps.google.com)

BWW - BWW 1778 Ala Moana Blvd Honolulu HI 1 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, Ala Moana Boulevard, Honolulu, Hawaii (source: maps.google.com)

Locations such as these, sporting a sampling of the Buffalo Wild Wings markings, have been adeptly integrated,  transformed and/or reconfigured to better reflect the brand’s energy and message. Calculated use of limited insignia helps to increase presence and visibility within a crowded marketplace while affording the brand access to trade areas or neighbourhoods that might not be as appropriate or receptive to the fully-loaded Buffalo Wild Wings design package.

3-Bases loaded

Although the restaurants utilize unifying brand elements, the brand ambassadors are surely the stand-alone building format. Complemented by the full package of exterior treatments, integrated from the initial design phase, the stand-alone new-build form and design is unique and unmistakably B-Dubs.

DSC08748 BWW - BWW Construction Mapleview Drive near Highway 400 Barrie ON

Buffalo Wild Wings during construction, Mapleview Drive near Highway 400, Barrie, Ontario, Canada

Strategically featuring the brand signature colours of yellow, black and white, the typical one-storey building is generally clad with resilient, warm, natural base materials such as brick and stone.

DSC09311 BWW - BWW Arsenal Street Watertown NY

Buffalo Wild Wings, 3/4 front view, Arsenal Street, Watertown, New York

The main entrance is quickly identifiable, framed by a high tower element bisecting the low-rise principal building in two halves of unequal size. The tower is finished in the brand’s bold yellow colour, with one of the two primary columns typically wrapped in a tapestry of alternating white and black squares extending from the ground plane to the parapet. The prominent parapets effectively cap the building by providing a clear visual termination point in the plane.

BWW - BWW 206 Old Eastwood Road Wilmington NC 2 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, 3/4 side view, Old Eastwood Road, Wilmington, North Carolina (source: maps.google)

A projecting intermediate roof reduces the effective height to bring it to a more human scale, while providing some shape and cover for guests upon arrival. At the main roof, equipment screens echo the white and black squares, thus integrating necessary yet visually less interesting mechanical features into the design envelope.

BWW - BWW 3209 Stadium Drive Kalamazoo MI 3 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, Michigan (source: maps.google)

Punched window openings reduce the bulk of the building and provide some rhythm to the exterior façade. Each large primary window is dressed up with a black coloured awning, which continues the alternating squares design across the base of the awning, although in the yellow and black colour palette.

BWW - BWW 2750 Mall Dr #600 Las Cruces NM 4 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, 3/4 front view, Mall Drive, Las Cruces, New Mexico (source: maps.google)

The covered patio repeats the norm established by the window awnings with a larger sized awning covering the adjacent space, therefore tying the outdoor space visually with the rest of the building.

DSC08682 BWW - BWW Yonge St near Green Lane East Gwillimbury ON

Buffalo Wild Wings, Yonge Street near Green Lane, East Gwillimbury, Ontario, Canada

Although prescriptive, the prototype design blends into several surroundings by utilizing common commercial construction materials, having an aesthetic that resonates well with its neighbours and by being appropriately scaled.

BWW - BWW 4345 Merle Hay Road Des Moines IA 5 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, 3/4 side view, Merle Hay Road, Des Moines, Iowa (source: maps.google.com)

The typical interior adopts an open layout with different dining options, from sit-down to bar-side. In line with its sports bar intentions, the interior is plastered with televisions for optimal sports viewing, encouraging social interactions between patrons. Sports-themed memorabilia and brand insignia adorn the walls, and merchandising displays afford guests an opportunity to purchase gear or sauces.

Playing up ambiance and energy, B-Dubs has strived to be the go-to location for families and sports-fans to gather, enjoy a game together on one of their multiple TVs while enjoying some suds and gnoshing on wings. Destined to forever remain a substitute to actually being at the game, Buffalo Wild Wings sought to improve upon their own offering.

4-Changing the playbook

Armed with the idea of bringing the game-time experience ever-closer to the fans, B-Dubs reworked several parts of their brand communication, logo, typeface, graphics, restaurant layout and exterior design/architectural identity.

In the latter half of 2012, B-Dubs unveiled a refreshed take on their formula. Working with FITCH, a global design consultancy, all brand aspects, including logo, restaurant design, audio-visual capabilities and operations were reviewed (source: buffalowildwings.com). Attempting to recreate the sensory overload and cacophony of activity of a stadium, the new design seeks to provide an immersive experience.

Although the brand has broadened its appeal beyond sports-fans over time, the B-Dubs triumphant formula continues to revolve around three key items: wings, beer and sports. The new “Stadia” concept unveiled in 2012 would build upon these brand pillars (source: buffalowildwings.com, fitch.com, nrn.com).

Of first order, the signature sauces and seasoning have been brought to the forefront, being prominently displayed upon entry. A “redesigned entry, complete with merchandise, local sports memorabilia and benches that look like lockers greet guests” projects a tunnel experience akin to entering a sports stadium (source: yucatantimes.com, bizwire.com, akronlegalnews.com).

BWW - BWW Interior Hostess station

Buffalo Wild Wings, “Stadia concept”, interior view, hostess station (source: underconsideration.com)

BWW - BWW Stadia concept Hostess station

Buffalo Wild Wings, “Stadia” concept, interior view, hostess station (source: fitch.com)

Once beyond the arrival area into the main area, the space opens up dramatically with seating zones, colourful graphics, and large volumes. The zoned spaces allow families and fans to freely choose between more intimate dining spaces ringing the edges, to be closer to the action at the center of the restaurant or the patio space for a different experience.

Noticeably, the brand has brought the beer out front behind the bar into full view. Holding down the No. 1 account spot for more than 50 different beer brands, beer sales are a central element of the B-Dubs business (source: cnbc.com). As such, the wide selection of beers are on display with kegs integrated into the wall at the edge of the bar area.

BWW - BWW Stadia concept Beer kegs

Buffalo Wild Wings, “Stadia” concept, interior view, bar with beer kegs recessed into wall (source: fitch.com)

Additionally, with sports rounding out the three brand pillars, enhancements designed to improve the game-time experience are at the heart of the redesign. Much like before, the game literally remains front, center and at multiple viewing angles, spread out strategically throughout the interior, with a Jumbotron-type giant screen hung above the bar, à la central score board at many sports arenas (source: akronlegalnews.com). Highlighting the social aspect of sports by creating an engaging and interactive gathering place for sports-fans, the design attempts to capture the communal nature and replicate energy of a sports stadium. Several seating options can accommodate groups of various sizes, and the U-shaped bar configuration affords interactions between patrons.

BWW - BWW Stadia concept bar area

Buffalo Wild Wings, “Stadia” concept, interior view, U-shaped bar area (source: fitch.com)

Finally, along with the changes to the interior spaces, the familiar look previously established by B-Dubs has been dramatically reworked. The most striking exterior design change is possibly industrial slant that the brand has opted to trace.

BWW - BWW Stadia concept exterior

Buffalo Wild Wings “Stadia” concept, exterior view, front facade (source: yucatantimes.com)

Cubist, boxy, squat, a jumble of stacked blocks, the “Stadia” concept embodies many of the faddish qualities of container architecture.

BWW - Starbucks store constructed of shipping containers Tukwila WA

Starbucks drive-thru store constructed of shipping containers, Tukwila, Washington (source: bdcnetwork.com)

Corrugated steel and aluminum volumes are juxtaposed with warmer, earthy, durable materials such as brick and stone. Intended to be more dynamic and inviting, the techno-industrial, mechanical, barren aesthetic seems to have more sterile feel, likely to age less gracefully than the previous design.

DSC06263 BWW - Mazda Dealership Drivers Village Cicero NY

Mazda Dealership featuring techno-industrial aesthetic, East Circle Drive, Cicero, New York

Larger exterior windows, along with the addition of clerestory windows permits daylight to filter into the center of the restaurant through the afternoon hours providing a more inviting space. Additionally, the central high volume required by the new windows reinforces the airy dining/bar space, opening up the space to feel even larger and more grandiose. High ceilings, exposed structure and pendant lights further enhance the sensation of volume.


The boundary between inside and outside space is blurred by the covered patio space, with a complement of overhead door that expand the seating area and the effective restaurant footprint.

BWW - BWW Strip mall 85 Western Avenue Portland ME 3 https___maps.google

Buffalo Wild Wings, strip mall location, Western Avenue, Portland, Maine (source: maps.google.com)

Looking like the prototype might have been parachuted in to the site, it does not assimilate into the surroundings with much ease. Busy, less cohesive, and somewhat ephemeral, the “Stadia” design could present a potential source of visual conflict with adjacent retail storefronts, especially in strip mall settings, whereas the previous design managed to co-exist with fewer constraints.

5-Converting in the red zone

Challenging itself and its design team to amplify the Buffalo Wild Wings experience and continue to deliver on the brand’s irreverent, fast-paced, fun, casual dining and entertainment premise, the brand intends to roll out its new “Stadia” concept, along with new logo and insignia, throughout its network of restaurants.

DSC12316 BWW - BWW Gift Card New Logo 2013

Buffalo Wild Wings gift card with new logo and typeface

Designed to be cost-effective, scalable, and adaptable for retrofits, most 2013 new-build and all remodels were to adopt the “Stadia” prototype design (source: fitch.com, nrn.com, buffalowildwings.com).

Pursuing its global ambitions, with plans to open restaurants in Mexico, Canada, the Philippines and Middle East during 2014, the new “Stadia” concept will become ever more commonplace (source: franchising.com).

DSC03962 BWW - Scotiabank Place

Real stadium experience, NHL hockey, Scotiabank Place, Kanata, Ontario, Canada

Although noting can replace the experience of actually being at the game, much remains to be seen if “Stadia” will be able to convert on B-Dubs game plan to deliver an “Amped up!” guest experience, continue to broaden the base beyond the core, and score with fans.


All brands and trademarks are property of their respective owners.


About marc lortie

marc lortie is an Architectural Designer (Technologist) currently based in Ottawa, Ontario (Canada). marc has several years of experience working in Canada and the USA on various projects, including commercial shopping centres, big-box stores, industrial plants, educational facilities, warehouses, storage facilities, intermodal facilities, hotels, offices, and residential developments. marc is a graduate of Carleton University, Algonquin College and La Cite Collegiale.



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