Fantasy teams are drafted and preseason sleepers are either paying dividends or have been banished to free agent purgatory. That can only mean one thing: Football season is in full swing.
Across big cities and small towns, crowds are leaving the comfort of their couches and flocking to TV-adorned restaurants to enjoy sports with friends, families, a basket of spicy chicken wings and a beer—or three.
For franchise owners like Victor Dakessian, who operates a Buffalo Wings & Rings location in Crystal Lake, Ill., sports can be the life-blood of the restaurant industry during the fall and winter months, regardless of the event.
From July through October of last year—a peak time for football in the Chicagoland area—Dakessian’s Crystal Lake location saw a 77 percent jump in sales.
“There’s no doubt about it—we always welcome sport seasons at our restaurant,” Dakessian said. “It gets crowds of people in the door without us having to advertise. When there are major events, such as the Chicago Cubs’ wildcard game this year, our business always does better than average.”
With nearly half of all Americans—more than 155 million—saying they are fans of the National Football League, restaurants across the country are taking advantage of the fandom. Even before the first footballs begin arcing through the air at professional and college games, savvy restaurant operators have been busy kicking off new flavors, spicy foods and to-go packages in an effort to boost sales and capitalize on America’s most-watched sport.
According to Dakessian, football get-togethers give restaurant operators an opportunity to pair their menu lineups with fans. During the fall, Buffalo Wings & Rings launches a limited-time menu featuring a variety of game day goodies. Among the specials are Wings of Fury, chicken wings tossed in curry powder and topped with Sriracha, and the Potato-Pile On, five oversized bacon-and-cheese tater tots topped with jalapeño, avocado and chipotle ranch dressing.
But the real key to success during sports season is consistency. Dakessian believes in ensuring that even during the off-season, people will still want to come back.
“Things will get hectic during big games and crowds sometimes grow to a level that we can’t always handle,” Dakessian said. “But we learned that it’s more important to turn people away and sacrifice a few extra bucks in an effort to guarantee that our customers are comfortable, not packed in like sardines and still getting the same attention from our staff.”
One of the ways Dakessian ensures consistent customer satisfaction is by removing a standing room area—if you don’t have a table or seat, you can’t come in. They also schedule extra help on nights they expect larger crowds.
“You can’t sacrifice the service, experience and food, even when things are super busy,” Dakessian added. “We want our one-time customers from sports seasons to become life-long customers. That’s why my philosophy will always be this: If we can bring them in the door, the food and atmosphere will always speak for itself.”