More than six months have passed since Buffalo Wings & Rings was featured on the CBS hit series Undercover Boss, but a lot of the important lessons learned from that experience still remain.
When Nader Masadeh, the president and CEO of Buffalo Wings & Rings, was presented with an opportunity to explore the inner-workings of his brand by participating in Undercover Boss, he was tasked to do so under the guise of “Pete”—an alter-ego with gray hair, thick glasses and no mustache. Taking part in the show presented itself as an incredible opportunity—this was his chance to see firsthand how the company executes at their franchise locations.
“Going undercover was exhilarating. I was able to share laughs with dozens of employees who work hard to keep our customers smiling. I saw where we were excelling and thriving. But I also saw where we struggled,” Masadeh said. “And while those rough moments aren’t always easy to swallow, they serve as a lesson: There is always room to improve your business.”
For Masadeh, brand awareness was a big factor in participating in the show. Since the episode aired back in December, the publicity has had the exact response from the general public he had hoped for—new customers were coming into their restaurants to see what Buffalo Wings & Rings is all about. As it turns out, people were captivated by the brand’s culture—after originally being slated to appear later in the season, the show was bumped up as the season’s premier. And most recently, the popular Undercover Boss episode was nominated for an Emmy award—once again sparking a renewed buzz around the brand.
“There has always been a bit of confusion with our brand and other leaders in the industry. So we wanted to show what differentiates ourselves from the competition—we’re not Buffalo Wild Wings. And the hope was that by showcasing our club-level experience, people could see that for themselves,” Masadeh said. “The exposure from Undercover Boss has been phenomenal. It showed more people who we are and what we’re all about, and it intrigued people enough to go out and try our product. It highlighted everything that we have to offer.”
For Masadeh, appearing on Undercover Boss really did boost brand awareness. The day the show aired, Buffalo Wings & Rings’ website had more than 50,000 hits—on an average day, they usually get 1,000. Masadeh also explained that they received more than 500 franchise leads from the show, and, because the show piqued a lot of viewers’ curiosity, the brand’s in-store sales saw an increase, too.
The show also helped to highlight the strong—and weak—points of the Buffalo Wings & Rings store-level culture.
“I realized that a lot of times, the things we hope to see in our employees—like passion, charisma, loyalty and hospitality—sometimes get lost in translation as they trickle down the management ladder. It was hard to see employees not always offering the VIP experience to customers and giving respect to each other that we expect to see across the system,” Masadeh said. “I saw certain employees being rude to customers, reading from an emotionless script and making it clear that their patronage wasn’t appreciated. Just as worse, I saw disrespect between employees. That’s not who we are—and that’s not how I want to see our brand represented to the people who keep us in business.”
But even more importantly, Masadeh saw firsthand just how important it is to nurture those employees who truly live and breathe the Buffalo Wings & Rings culture.
“When you have someone who embodies what the company stands for, make sure you hang on to them. It’s important to focus on longevity and a low turnover rate. Do this by creating a safe environment and a culture that inspires personal and professional growth. Treat them fairly, and reward them for a good day’s work. Let them know they’re valued,” Masadeh said.
He witnessed such an employee when he visited a Buffalo Wings & Rings location in Cincinnati. Dave Bauer is a dishwasher in one of the brand’s hometown stores, and he was quickly recognized by Masadeh for his hardworking nature, positive attitude, and dedication to his role. Masadeh was so impressed by Bauer’s passion for the Buffalo Wings & Rings culture, that he surprised him with a trip to Washington D.C. with his brother to watch the Nationals play the Cincinnati Reds. Masadeh also gave him box seats to an upcoming Bengals game. Today, Bauer is still energized to go to his dishwashing job every single day.
“This entire experience has reaffirmed to me that the path Buffalo Wings & Rings is on is the right one, as long as we continue to immerse our employees—from the top to the bottom—in the lifeblood that keeps our company alive and well,” Masadeh said.