Ruby Tuesday bets on upscale food

Goodbye, old Ruby Tuesday. Known for decades for its casual burger-and-salad restaurants, the nearly 40-year-old chain has undergone an aggressive $100 million makeover that started just before the recession sapped many restaurant companies of their earnings.

But finally, analysts say, the risky menu switch, as well as a cultural shift in how Ruby Tuesday approaches the food business, may be paying dividends with a return to profits and brighter prospects for the roughly 900-unit chain.

Among a number of more upscale menu additions are herb-crusted tilapia, North Atlantic lobster tails and red wine pairing with steak dishes — all designed to boost the average ticket price diners pay and differentiate Ruby Tuesday from other value-based chains pitching customers with discounts, coupons and two-for-one specials.

The catch was that Ruby Tuesday’s chairman, president and CEO, Sandy Beall, hit his brand’s start-over button just as many consumers faced job losses, home loan problems and other pressures that led them to keep tighter reins on spending. Few people dined out, and sales at the chain’s company-owned stores open a year or more fell.

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