Ruth’s Chris Steak House is known for its classic American fare, but thorughout this year and into 2012, Ruth's Chris executives are showing off the company's wine program with a series of National Wine Dinners. At the 38 locations participating, different wineries are featured, with each vino varietal complementing a specially-created food menu. For $95 to $120 per person, guests enjoy wines that are paired with four courses of its steakhouse fare, plus a dessert. Three National Wine Dinners were held this year -- one featuring Penfolds Grange U.S. releases, a second showcasing Insignia wines and the third highlighting Antinori vintages; the Winter Park, Fla.-based chain is taking things to a new level with three wine dinners, one Scotch dinner and Port event on the roster. Click here to read about the Oct. 20 wine dinner with Antinori selections. Helen Mackey, Corporate Director of Beverage Strategy for Ruth’s Hospitality Group talked to VIBE about what goes into planning and promoting such an extravagant event.
VIBE: Planning a wine dinner isn’t easy. How long did it take you to plan the Ruth’s Chris wine dinners?
Helen Mackey: When I joined Ruth’s in January of 2010, it was clear that we had a very wine-engaged guest and an equally enthusiastic internal team. I took this insight and overlaid it with my experience of having lived in Napa Valley for 10 years to develop a program that would continue to make Ruth’s the most delightful wine destination for our guests. The idea for this national wine dinner series was embedded in the Napa Valley tradition of Release Parties, Harvest Celebrations and VIP-style wine parties. In essence, we are bringing wine country — whether it is Napa Valley or the Barossa Valley — to Ruth’s Chris restaurants across the country and even internationally, in a celebration of wine, food and the American table all year long. One night, one menu, all the same wines uniquely paired with each dish across all participating locations equals one big wine country-inspired evening.
VIBE: How did you choose the different varietals and how are you helping guests information learn more about what they're drinking?
Mackey: We choose the wines to show a range from each hosting winery. We then develop dishes that pair incredibly well with the wines while allowing the wine to shine. Regarding the educational portion of the dinner, we work with the winery to designate a host in each location who can speak to our guests about the wines they are enjoying.
VIBE: How are you marketing the Ruth’s Chris wine dinner?
Mackey: We have started to gain a following through word-of-mouth [marketing], but otherwise we have a robust email list, we post online and use social media. Most of all, we have interested guests.
VIBE: What was the theme and overall goal the Ruth’s Chris team wanted to present?
Mackey: We started with the wines and then worked to develop a menu that stays true to who we are — a classic American steak house — while providing an unexpected extra twist. In the case of the Antinori dinner, we worked to develop Tuscan-inspired twists on authentically styled Ruth’s Chris dishes.
VIBE: Do the wine dinners help increase wine sales and beverage sales overall?
Mackey: The national wine dinners are a pursuit of delight for us because we are truly offering our guests a whole experience — one where they leave having learned something and having been a part of a truly unique event like tasting wines before they are released to the rest of the United States at our release dinners. We take “Wine Insider” to the next level for our guests and our internal teams, and we all couldn’t be happier about that.
VIBE: What challenges came up when you putting this event together?
Mackey: Every time you do an event on a national level, you will have challenges. The key is to plan well enough in advance, work with amazing wine partners and have an incredibly talented team.