[Nov. 9 update: Ruby Tuesday announced a rollout of the "new menu" described below as the test menu. ]
Samuel E. “Sandy” Beall is excited. The chairman of the board, president and CEO of casual-dining chain Ruby Tuesday told Wall Street securities analysts during the chain’s October 7 earnings call that it has an important and promising new menu in test. “It’s going to be a very good menu, our best ever,” said Beall. “We’ve been working … on this for two or three years. I think this is by far the best menu ever.”
What’s so exciting about this redesigned menu? Mark Young, SVP-Marketing for the 896-store, Tennessee-based chain, says it “highlights several new items with bold flavors and more variety that continues to broaden our appeal and should lead to increased frequency.”
Executives declined to be specific with analysts about what is being evaluated, but take a look at the test menu side by side with Ruby Tuesday’s standard menu and it’s evident how artfully the chain is making its menu more broadly appealing without significantly altering its menu-price model. Rather than test higher-menu-price items, the chain is using appetizers (especially quesadillas) and mini burgers to bring more-enticing flavors that encourage add-on orders. The test menu also tiers mini-burger entrées by offering soup or salad options not available elsewhere.
“We have a goal to increase our average check to the $12.50 to $14.50 range from the mid-$11 range we see today,” Young said during the call. “The first step to accomplish this goal is to increase our customer traffic, since it is easier to manage check when demand is increasing.”
The basic Ruby Tuesday menu opens with a section labeled “Appetizers.” It includes two different quesadilla options (each at $8.99) and three dips (from $6.49 to $7.99) among other starters. In selected locations, however, the test menu breaks the section into three parts. Fifteen “Appetizers” are reallocated to become a dozen “Craveable Appetizers,” five “Shareable Dips” and five “Quesadillas.”
The added variety increases chances guests will find one or more starter course to build the check. The “Craveable Appetizers” test adds such options as Boston Barbecue Wings ($7.99) and a Wing Sampler (barbecue, Buffalo and sesame-peanut sauces) at a high-end price of $10.99. Similarly, the “Shareable Dips” section adds Queso Dip at the low end ($4.99 or $6.49) and a new Dip Trio with spicy queso, fresh guacamole and salsa at $10.99. Several of these test starters are already being rolled out systemwide as seasonal limited-time offers.
The “Quesadillas” section of the test menu has five options (including new Cheeseburger Quesadilla and California Club Quesadilla with slow-roasted chicken, avocado, diced tomatoes, shredded Swiss and Cheddar, and bacon) all priced at $8.99. Again, the approach is to boost checks not by upping price but by improving variety and appeal.
The test menu also splits the standard, 18-item “Handcrafted Burgers” section in two. In locations such as Dawsonville, Ga., there are 10 “Handcrafted Burgers” (including a new Pimento Cheese Burger) that range in price from $6.99 to $9.49. What’s different is a “Premium Sandwiches” section that includes four burgers plus a Chicken BLT and Ultimate Chicken sandwich with Havarti cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, sliced avocado and honey-mustard dressing. That’s a lot of flavors for one menu item to bring, but it’s the kind of bold dish Ruby Tuesday execs know the brand needs.
Both menus have a “Prime Burgers” section with higher-price ($9.99 to $10.99) burger selections. But where the standard menu has a “Mini Masterpieces” section with mini burgers, the test menu has a section labeled “Combinations.” One new offer here is the option of a bowl of soup or chili with a Fresh Garden Bar visit for $8.49.
The standard menu offers entrées of two or four mini burgers with fries for $8.99 to $10.99. The test menu makes the minis more inviting by offering only two minis plus options beyond just fries. For example, two of the new Pimento Cheese Minis are $6.99 with a side of soup or $7.99 with a salad. Similarly, two new Salmon Cake Minis are $10.99 with soup or $11.99 with salad. Four-mini-burger options are eliminated from the test menu.
Another tactical change on the test menu is to move the “Signature Sides” section down to bottom of the page. This brings higher-price/higher-margin “Specialties” such as $12.99 Chicken Bella and $10.99 Barbecue Grilled Chicken more to the middle of the menu page where guests’ eyes go first.
During the first quarter of fiscal 2010 ended Sept. 1, 2009, Ruby Tuesday also began a rollout of a four-course brunch and an expanded beverage menu (including a Cajun Mary and Peach Bellini). Beall told analysts that brunch “has received strong favorable reviews by our guests and to use a baseball analogy, it’s a nice single in our arsenal of sales-building programs.”
The redesigned menu, however, has home-run potential, chain execs apparently believe.