Ruby Tuesday’s chief executive Sandy Beall is continuing to forge ahead on the brand enhancement initiative that began, ironically, at approximately the same time the recession hit. Even as Beall seeks to differentiate the 37-year-old chain from the casual dining field by foregoing the kitschy décor and burger-heavy menu for leather banquettes, trendy black server uniforms and lobster tails, crab cakes, salads and hand-crafted burgers, he and his team have kept the importance of value in focus. In November, the Maryville, Tenn.-based chain launched its new $5 Premium Cocktail program in all 847 locations.
Any cocktail the guest orders is $5 so long as it’s made with brands from the Ruby Tuesday’s well: Bacardi Rum, Sauza Gold Tequila, Beefeater Gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Jim Beam Bourbon or Cutty Sark Scotch. Guests can upgrade to above-premium brands for an additional $1, $2 or $3.
VIBE checked in with Andy Scoggins, vice president of culinary and beverage for Ruby Tuesday to find out more about the $5 Premium Cocktail program.
VIBE: We’re seeing a lot of drink discount programs these days. How does your program compare?
Scoggins: Well, it’s not a happy hour or a “discount.” It’s an ongoing beverage program; there is no end date. We’ve made a strategic decision to offer $5 cocktails made with premium well brands — it’s a decision to go after traffic. We’re offering consumers a compelling reason to come into Ruby Tuesday: get a great drink for $5.
We’ve had a happy hour program since August with $2 off appetizers and $1 off drafts and wines by the glass where we can do happy hour.
VIBE: What was the previous price point range?
Scoggins: We were running between $5.99 and $8.99 per cocktail.
VIBE: Did you make any changes to the drink formulations to allow the $5 price point?
Scoggins: Not at all. We didn’t change our recipes, our pour size or the mixers involved. We pride ourselves on using all-natural products — no syrups, just fresh fruit and juices — and having authentic, high-end drinks. That hasn’t changed. Our Mojitos are still served in a 14.5-ounce Pilsner, our Sangria remains in a large glass. Some restaurants are doing small Margaritas for $2.99 and calling it a bargain; we’re keeping our pour sizes and glass sizes and delivering quality at a lower price to drive people into the restaurants. We’re also negating the “No” vote because we’re not just focusing on one drink with this pricing. Whatever you want, we’ll make it for $5. In short, we’re trading profit for traffic.
VIBE: Is there a danger in lowering the price point like this, perhaps training guests to expect lower price points to the point that recouping that higher profit margin on drinks becomes impossible?
Scoggins: There is danger if you erode the brand or try to drive margin back up by reducing quality. If you resort to a low-end well, then you damage your brand significantly. We have no intention of doing that; we’ve worked to transition Ruby Tuesday to high-quality casual dining in recent years and are committed to maintaining that.
VIBE: What about guests seeking super-premium brands?
Scoggins: We still offer value. You can get a Cuervo Margarita for $1 more and a Patron Margarita for $3 more; you can go to Absolut in your Cosmo for $1 more and to Grey Goose for $2 more.
That’s another advantage of the program: it’s easy for the server to upsell the guest because the price structure is simple to understand and also explain to the guest. So we’re driving traffic and then driving check averages with an easy upsell.
VIBE: How are you marketing this program?
Scoggins: Our supplier partners were really excited about this and are helping us showcase the drinks. We have a table tent, and it’s showcased on our feature menu piece and in the Drinks & Dessert menu. Servers are trained and also incentivized to drive the program. There’s a lot of attention focused on it, and once we see the results, it will ramp up even more.