Don't Underestimate Happy Hour Power

Last quarter, I thought "wings, beer, and sports" made a weird and unconvincing formula for Buffalo Wild Wings' (Nasdaq: BWLD  ) success. But despite my doubts, the wing-centric restaurant chain has delivered another impressive quarter.

Buffalo Wild Wings' first-quarter net income increased 40.7%, to $14.9 million, or $0.81 per share. Total sales surged 19.6%, to $182.2 million, and same-store sales jumped 3.9% at company-owned stores and 1.6% at its franchised locations.

Rising commodities costs have created a tricky environment for many restaurant companies, particularly those focused on beef and dairy ingredients. Everybody from McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) to Ruth's Hospitality (Nasdaq: RUTH  ) , and even pizza purveyors like Papa John's (Nasdaq: PZZA  ) or Domino's (NYSE: DPZ  ) , now feels the pinch. But Buffalo Wild Wings has an odd outlier on its side. Its bread-and-butter offerings, chicken wings, have actually gotten cheaper. Go figure.

Furthermore, Buffalo Wild Wings' new happy hour program has helped drive traffic to its restaurants, increasing alcohol and appetizer sales and putting even more emphasis on the "wings and beer" ingredient in its recipe for success.

Buffalo Wild Wings faces an interesting risk that's fairly singular to its business: the potential for an NFL lockout. Pro football games' ability to drive customers -- and transactions -- is a significant part of Buffalo Wild Wings' business. Missed games could result in missing customers, although the company has started a Facebook campaign to try to help fans apply some pressure to end the dispute.  

I've long considered Buffalo Wild Wings' stock too pricey, even though it's a favorite among many Fools (and a longtime Motley Fool Hidden Gems selection). Perhaps I was missing a major ingredient in the stock's story. This isn't just a restaurant that serves chicken and beer -- it's a hangout for watching sports with others, which may give it both differentiation from wing-slinging peers and a defensive moat. If its real formula truly is more powerful than I previously realized, its shares may not be so overvalued after all.

Buffalo Wild Wings is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. McDonald's is a Motley Fool Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of and has written puts on Papa John's International. The Fool owns shares of Domino's Pizza. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. For more on this and other topics, check back at Fool.com, or follow her on Twitter: @AlyceLomax. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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