Experiential Dining: A Trend Reshaping the Restaurant Industry

wingers franchise, experiential dining

Consumers Seek to Connect, Engage and Share Memories through Experience Dining

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Consumers increasingly value and will pay more for experiences over material items, research shows. They want to spend quality time – in real time – with friends and family, share unique moments and create memories. The forced isolation of the pandemic only accelerated the adoption of this “experience economy,” experts say. The demand for experiential dining is changing the restaurant business.

Brothers Eric and Scott Slaymaker, founders of Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse, understood this concept even before marketers identified it as a trend. “Our mission statement at Wingers is as simple as it can get: ‘Creating Amazing Experiences!’ These days, having great food and service are expected, but making sure that our guests are having fun and an amazing experience is what will always set our brand apart!” says Eric Slaymaker, who serves as Wingers president and CEO.

Scott Slaymaker agrees. “We are very much in the relationship business,” he says. “Dining out is a social experience. Wingers firmly believes that if we can consistently fulfill our guests’ social needs and make them happy, our guests will make Wingers a regular part of their lives.”

Experiential Dining Trend

Research bears out this thinking. According to Eventbrite, a global ticketing and events marketplace, 75% of people surveyed say it’s worth paying more for a unique dining experience. “The current generation of foodies views food as an experience, not just as a meal,” says Sarah Hoffman, head of food and drink marketing at Eventbrite.

The Slaymakers draw from decades of experience as both restaurant franchisees and franchisors in understanding their customers’ needs and wants. Following their franchise ownership with big brands including Sizzler, Tony Roma’s and TGI Fridays, they opened their own Wingers American Diner, a 2,700 square-foot establishment, in 1993 in Bountiful, Utah.

wingers franchise, experiential dining
wingers franchise, experiential dining
Wingers is on a mission to create amazing experiences for customers.

Now, as franchisors, they’ve grown the brand to include more than 20 locations in five states in the Mountain West, with others in development in Texas and Oklahoma. In 2016, the Slaymakers tested the first Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse in the Boise, Idaho, area, expanding the number of draft beer options to more than 40 taps, remodeling the restaurant with a “contemporary Soho industrial feel,” updating menus and throwing away microwaves in the kitchen in favor of fresh, made-from-scratch recipes. When the restaurant opened, sales were immediately up almost 70%, Eric says, adding that most of the other Wingers locations have now been converted, doubling and even tripling sales.

Eighty percent of our business at Wingers Alehouse is built around what I call experience dining.

Eric Slaymaker, president and CEO

Convenience Versus Connection

Eric says restaurant goers can generally be divided into two categories: those seeking convenience and value, who typically look to fast food or fast-casual options, and those seeking an experience in which they can connect with others. “These are customers who are looking to be able to sit down with friends or family, have great food and drink, enjoy each other’s company, enjoy the atmosphere, and hopefully have a great time.

“Eighty percent of our business at Wingers Alehouse is built around what I call experience dining, and we are putting more and more of our focus on the importance of making sure our guests are having fun and really enjoying their time while at our establishments,” he says.

wingers franchise, experiential dining

In repositioning to the alehouse concept, the Slaymakers made some pleasant discoveries. “We suddenly appealed to a whole new group of customers, especially among the 20- to 30-year-old age group who now loved coming to Wingers Alehouse to drink and eat and socialize. We also found out that we never lost any of our older ‘core’ customer base, but that they even liked the new Wingers Alehouse experience more than before,” Eric says.

Casual Dining Environment

In addition to all the other improvements, expanding the bar has been key to Wingers’ success. “The bar in a casual dining environment is the heart and soul of the restaurant,” Scott says. “The bar gives us permission to have fun and create amazing experiences for Wingers’ guests.”

wingers franchise, experiential dining

Although the Slaymakers don’t describe their restaurants as sports bars, Eric says they did add TVs and borrowed some of the best elements of the sports bar experience. “We are now a fun place to come to gather and hang out, and to eat and drink. Our new ‘experiential dining’ focus has worked perfectly with our core menu, and we have been building traffic and sales ever since our brand repositioning to Wingers Alehouse.

“We are very excited as we are now beginning to open new locations in the Midwest, in places like Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas,” he says, “and we know that the Wingers Alehouse experience is perfectly suited to build a solid following throughout the country!” For more information about the Wingers Restaurant & Alehouse franchise, visit https://wingerbros.com/franchising-opportunities/.

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Lisa Ocker’s career began at her hometown paper, The Baytown Sun, covering everything from city government to chemical plant disasters, a hurricane and a controversial FEMA buyout of a flood-plagued neighborhood. From there, she moved to South Florida, reporting for the Palm Beach Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspapers, and serving as editor of the regional magazine, Boca Raton. Returning to her home state, she led the re-launch of SUCCESS magazine as editor after a Texas-based entrepreneur bought the 100-year-old brand.

Lisa’s work also has appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Newsweek. She has covered major news events including the space shuttle Challenger explosion and the rape trial and acquittal of William Kennedy Smith, nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Edward Kennedy. Her coverage of immigration issues included reporting on Haitian and Cuban refugee crises while traveling with the U.S. Coast Guard and from the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Her work with SUCCESS included profiles of entrepreneurs Steve Case, Ted Turner and the late Tony Hsieh.

Now living in and working from Santa Fe, NM, Lisa enjoys sharing the challenges and successes of franchisees and franchisors as a contributor to FranchiseWire and Franchise Consultant Magazine.
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