The economy may be bad, but Ruby Tuesday’s culinary department says it keeps its sights on long-term goals. Even as the chain introduces short-term offerings to get customers in the door, it never strays from the long-term focus on offering a broad range of dishes at different prices, says Andy Scoggins, the casual-dining chain’s vice president of culinary and beverage. That emphasis on variety and quality, Scoggins says, is the key to creating a successful menu, regardless of the economic climate.
Describe a recent new menu item.
One is our lobster ravioli, which we’re featuring as a limited-time offering. It’s been met with some great success in that we’ve offered the dish at a less-than-$15 price range for a lobster dish, which in our segment is tough to do from a value standpoint.… It’s traditional ravioli pasta with real lobster meat wrapped in the pasta. The dish is also made with Parmesan cream sauce, fresh spinach and topped with Parmesan cheese.
When did development of that dish start? Was it before the economy got really bad?
Yes, we’ve actually been working on that dish probably for two years, in that we’ve been really trying to find the right flavor and texture of pasta and the right vendor to produce the dish for us, and we finally landed on one we really like.
In general, how has the economy affected development of the menu items that are currently on the drawing board?
I think it has affected [them] significantly in that we are focused on being able to provide value throughout our entire menu. Whether you are…looking for a premium burger in our Triple Prime Burger selections, or if you’re looking at our hand-crafted burgers, you’re still getting the best burger in the business at a value price.
We’ve done that in every section—in our steak category, through our specialties and even in our appetizer section—to try to make sure we have a great variety of items that cover value and cover any budget at any time. This is something that we believe is not just a short-term economic situation, but this [also] is a long-term strategy for us to always be able to provide value throughout our menu. So if you’re in the mood for a $10.99 steak or in the mood for an $18.99 rib eye, we have options for you.
Are there any specific strategies that you’re looking at to try to get to that value end? Are portions smaller or ingredients different?
Well, we’ve taken a stand that we don’t want to sacrifice quality. We believe in quality first—that a position of quality is going to win out, that we have to find value, that we have to find value at the highest possible quality.
Do you notice that more customers are ordering lower-cost menu items?
Well, not really for us. Because of our promotional strategies right now, we’re giving our guests the opportunity to try our specialties and try our steaks and ribs where they get a chance to get a little bit of a break from the economy. You’ve probably seen our freestanding insert coupons that are out there right now that are buy-one[entrée]-get-one-free, and that really has been a good value position in that we’ve given guests a chance to come in and try our signature specialty dishes and not have to spend as much money at that point.
When people come in with those coupons, do you find that the overall check stays the same or goes up because they trade up to a more expensive entrée or add an appetizer because of the perceived savings?
It goes up because they’re able to be more adventurous and choose some of the higher items.
Does an upcoming promotion such as a buy-one-get-one offer affect how you plan in the kitchen?
Nope, not a bit. We want to be able to develop items that are geared toward our guest in any economic time or any promotional time. It’s about finding the highest-quality, best-value item that we can, the things that we believe will differentiate us and will drive traffic and preference.
What direction do you see your recipe development taking in the next few months to a year?
We’re focused on finding bold, “crave-able” flavors…that will urge our guests to drive past competitors and come see Ruby, even if it’s a little out of the way.