Ruby Tuesday remains committed to social media but it has given up on tabletop media. And it has found, once again that burgers sell.
The Maryville, Tenn.-based casual-dining chain reported disappointing results for its Q3 ended Mach 1, 2016: same-store sales declined 3.1% and restaurant-level margins decreased by 10 basis points. Chairman, president and CEO JJ Buettgen attributed the decline to “weather, softness in the casual-dining industry and increased promotional activity by our peers.” Translation: guest counts were down 5.9%, which a 2.8% increase in check could not outweigh. Changes are in the works.
A new menu introduced last November, adding more than a dozen new items, has shown some results, he said. “We have received positive guest feedback on these new and improved items such as our half-pound burger baskets, our new chicken, new seafood dishes, and our new chef-inspired shrimp flavors,” Buettgen told analysts during last week’s earnings call.
But Ruby Tuesday won’t roll out Ziosk tabletop terminals through which guests can order, pay and play games. Chili’s, Red Robin and several other casual-dining concepts installed Ziosk systemwide, however Buettgen said Ruby Tuesday didn’t see enough ROI. “What we found in our restaurants was there were some benefits in terms of guest experience time, in terms of guest service; it worked well, it didn’t create any issues, but we didn’t see any meaningful change,” he said. “For us, at the end of the day, a large part of that model depends upon, you know, upsell on check as well as sales of some of the ancillary revenue items, games and things like that. And we didn’t see enough of it in our restaurants to justify the investment.”
Ruby Tuesday made an ill-fated decision (by previous management) to reposition its brand more upscale in style, price and menu in 2007, just as the economy crashed. It is still trying to reverse its losses from that move. “Women with families, and in particular young families, were one of the segments that we lost the most business with, in part because the restaurants were consciously [redecorated] to become more upscale,” Buettgen said.
The brand has implemented programs such as Kids Eat Free on Tuesday to get families back, while it also runs Happy Hour bar promotions to entice young professionals.
The chain is getting its message out primarily via new media. “Our first priority is to communicate more effectively to women and families, and we are testing different marketing mediums and messages,” said Buettgen. “On our last call we indicated that in November we allocated 100% of our advertising investment to digital and social media, utilizing platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and online video. We continued to focus on digital and social media during the third quarter, testing a variety of creative executions and targeting strategies.”
A main marketing focus moving forward will be its Garden Bar salad buffet. Buettgen called it “a key differentiator that sets us apart from our competition and the most important item on our menu.” An a major restaging (with enhanced variety and quality) Garden Bar has been testing in selected Southeast markets. Making that Garden Bar a part of to-go orders is something the brand wants to explore in the future.
We’re told that Superfoods are good for us. One site defines them as “calorie sparse and nutrient dense meaning they pack a lot of punch for their weight as far as goodness goes. They are superior sources of anti-oxidants and essential nutrients—nutrients we need but cannot make ourselves.” We’re also told millennials will order them, which could help explain The Cheesecake Factory chain’s decision to add a nine-item “Super Foods” section to its extensive menu last year. It remains.
Chick-fil-A worked with Chef Ford Fry to create a Superfood salad—with broccolini, kale, dried sour cherries and nuts—that replaced coleslaw on its menu in January. And McDonald’s is testing Breakfast Bowls in San Diego that include Superfood kale.
Now The Habit Burger Grill is joining the trend, offering a Super Food Salad through May. Priced at $7.95, the salad includes char-grilled chicken, baby kale, quinoa, sliced tomato, cucumber, carrots, feta cheese, dried cranberries, slivered almonds and a house-made kale-pesto dressing.
Now grown to 18 locations under Good Times Restaurants’ stewardship, Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar is on the kale bandwagon as well. A Baby Kale Caesar Salad with baby kale, romaine, Parmesan cheese and brioche croutons and a house-made Caesar dressing is part of a spring menu upgrade.
» A Fried Mozzarella Burger with a slice of panko-breaded and fried mozzarella, house-made tomato jam, garlic mayo, and Dijon mustard;
» A Maui Tuna Burger that starts with lightly seared poke-style house-ground tuna with Asian flavors that include house-made wasabi slaw, arugula, and a side of Thai chili sauce;
» New monthly specials starting in April with an American-style Wagyu Kobe Burger (shown at l.) topped with applewood-smoked bacon, white Cheddar, arugula, tomato, red onion and house-made A.1. whole-grain mustard vinaigrette, and Ba-“Con” Queso (its new BD’s Amber Al Queso with bacon added).
The X-Men franchise returns to theaters May 27 with “X-Men Apocalypse” but Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Brews isn’t waiting. It has brought back the Berserker Burger it offered in 2013 as a tie-in with “The Wolverine.” The new Berserker X Burger has a fire-grilled beef patty topped with lettuce, tomato, melted Cheddar, sriracha onion straws, spicy pickles and aïoli on an “X” marked brioche bun.