What is in this article?:
- Ruby Tuesday CEO plots new path for company
- Ramping up growth, marketing
The restaurant company recently announced that it would close all of its 13 Marlin & Ray’s restaurants.
James J. “JJ” Buettgen, chief executive of Ruby Tuesday Inc.
It’s no secret that James J. “JJ” Buettgen has plans to shake up Ruby Tuesday Inc.
During the company’s latest earnings announcement — Buettgen’s first since becoming chief executive on Dec. 1 — he said the company would close all of its 13 Marlin & Ray’s restaurants and that it also planned to close its Wok Hay concept and sell the company’s two Truffles Grill locations.
The goal, he said, was to refocus the Maryville, Tenn.-based company on its core Ruby Tuesday brand. The company also plans to expand Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, the fast-casual concept it acquired last year.
The company has already made changes at its Ruby Tuesday restaurants, Buettgen said, including a focus on serving high-quality food free of MSG and high-fructose corn syrup. Restaurants only serve fresh, not frozen, he said, an important differentiator for many consumers.
The décor and quality of service are also differentiators for the company’s 709 company-owned and 77 franchised Ruby Tuesday locations, Buettgen said.
“I think what you’ll see in the coming quarters is that you’ll start to see some of the refinements that we discussed,” he said. “You’ll start seeing new menu items and a greater range on price points.”
He added, “To me, that’s an example of where there’s an opportunity for us to better communicate.”
Effectively communicating the story and offerings of Ruby Tuesday to consumers, he noted, will be a big part of its future success. Buettgen was was most recently senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Darden Restaurants Inc. He took over the Ruby Tuesday role from Sandy Beall, who founded the company 40 years ago.
Buettgen spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about what to expect from Ruby Tuesday during his first year on the job.
About a year ago, Marlin & Ray’s was considered the future of the company. Why didn’t the concept work, and why did your team decide to shut it down?
The decision to close Marlin & Ray’s was made to focus on the upside we have at Ruby Tuesday. We want to make sure we’re focusing on the right aspects of our business. The priority is driving guest count and same-store sales at Ruby Tuesday.
If you think back to it, really, the Marlin & Ray’s concept was more about conversion of Ruby Tuesdays rather than building new units. Given that there’s a lot going on at Ruby Tuesday, we want to focus on that business.
What caused problems at Marlin & Ray’s? Was it related to broader casual-dining trends?
To me, if you compare the decision to close Marlin & Ray’s as opposed to expanding Lime Fresh, it’s not about casual dining versus fast casual; it’s about comparing how the two brands performed in each segment.
Lime is in not only in the fastest-growing overall segment within fast casual, but the Mexican segment itself is a really high growth sector. Seafood [Marlin & Ray’s] has been a relatively flat to declining segment in recent years.