It's almost a guarantee that Ruth's Chris Steak House would institute significant changes in 2024 in ways big and small, customer-facing and on the corporate side. In the first half of 2023, Darden Restaurants, the company that owns several major sit-down chains like the Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House, and Red Lobster, moved aggressively into the fine-dining sector with a $715 million acquisition of Ruth's Chris Steak House. New owners are almost always going to shake things up to simultaneously increase profits while attracting more customers. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and large-scale shutdowns of public places to stop the spread of the disease, as well as an economic downturn and inflation leading to big trouble for the restaurant industry, Ruth's Chris Steak House just couldn't go on conducting business as usual.
In a December 2023 conference call with investors, Darden executives, including CEO Rick Cardenas and CFO Raj Vennam, laid out plans for how the newest and most upscale entry in its restaurant portfolio would look and operate differently in the coming months. Here are all the changes in store for Ruth's Chris Steak House in 2024.
Ruth's Chris Steak House Is Scaling Back Its Hours
Both moderately expensive and high-end steakhouse chains alike have historically offered lunch service. Not only does opening the restaurant for four or five hours from the late morning and into the middle of the afternoon create a new revenue stream from the chain's various outlets, but it also allows customers to enjoy a top-flight steakhouse experience at slightly less expensive lunch menu prices. Steakhouses of such caliber open during the day and also naturally become a destination for expensive business lunches.
But as of 2024, Ruth's Chris Steak House will no longer pursue such a clientele, nor will it be open before dusk. "We eliminated lunch wherever possible," Rick Cardenas, CEO of Ruth's Chris parent company Darden Restaurants, said in a late 2023 earnings call (via Seeking Alpha) of a quietly instituted new policy. The steakhouse chain will embrace this strategy, as it doesn't seem to be economically feasible or beneficial to offer meals at a lower price point during the day. With the gradual disappearance of lunch, this likely means that certain items will fade from availability at Ruth's Chris. Lunch offerings at locations still open earlier, like Ruth's Prime Burger, the Seared Ahi Salad, the Crab Cake Sandwich, and the Chilled Shellfish Salad, aren't currently listed on the dinner menu.
After trying it out in 2023, Ruth's Chris Steak Houses everywhere will close up shop entirely for one particular day in 2024. "We will be closing most restaurants on Christmas Day," Cardenas revealed.
They're Making A Better Filet
A restaurant lives and dies by its signature dish, and that's particularly true for steakhouses. Dining at one is such a potentially expensive endeavor that chain steakhouses must offer a spectacular and definitive steak because if they don't, customers may bolt to any one of the many other elite beef restaurants out there.
This is a concept of which Darden Restaurants was keenly aware. Among the initial changes instituted upon the company's acquisition of Ruth's Chris Steak House in 2023 was an improvement in its steak filets, a popular menu item chain-wide. "One of the investments we made was an improvement in their filet," Darden CEO Rick Cardenas told investors (via MarketBeat) in December 2023. Ruth's Chris Steak House traditionally uses top quality, USDA Prime-grade steak whenever possible, but Cardenas didn't specify precisely how the filet had changed for the better. "I don't think that's in every restaurant yet," he added, suggesting that the rollout of better beef will eventually reach every restaurant in the Ruth's Chris network in 2024.
More changes to the food are likely on the way, too. A few months after acquiring Ruth's Chris Steak House, Cardenas announced in September 2023 that the buy opened up millions that Darden could use to reinvest in its properties. Soon, Darden will apply $10 million to Ruth's Chris, primarily on menu improvements.
Ruth's Chris Will No Longer Deliver
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdown orders closed restaurant dining rooms nationwide, establishments moved to a primary business model of pickup and delivery to stay as financially afloat as possible. Ruth's Chris Steak House outlets across the country successfully endured the pandemic years with such tactics, particularly by partnering with smartphone-based food delivery services like Grubhub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.
Those companies necessarily tack on service fees to restaurant tabs, creating an illusion of inflated menu prices. As of late 2023 and into 2024, that's a deal-breaker for Ruth's Chris Steak House parent company, Darden Restaurants. Delivery via an app is no longer an option at Ruth's Chris. "We have had third-party delivery in a few restaurants for quite a while, and the performance in those restaurants isn't significantly different than the ones that don't have it," Darden CEO Rick Cardenas said in a call with investors (via SeekingAlpha). "Even if we had to price more to cover that, our consumer would see that as our price, not necessarily the price for delivery." That's particularly troublesome and worthy of examination by Darden, as 2023-2024 steak prices sit at the high end of the fluctuating inflation spectrum.
While delivery is no longer an option for customers of Ruth's Chris Steak House's company-owned locations, online ordering directly through the chain's website remains intact, with selections for in-restaurant pickup or curbside service.
Some Spots Will Have New Menu Items
Just over half of the 150-plus Ruth's Chris Steak House locations are company-owned, included in Darden Restaurants' 2023 acquisition of the chain. That means the rest, or 74 Ruth's Chris dining rooms, are owned by independent franchisees. For example, one major operator of Ruth's Chris outlets is Prime Hospitality Group, and that collective has accepted the winds of change in the air at corporate Ruth's Chris, and will introduce transformations and adaptations at the restaurants it controls.
In December 2023, Prime Hospitality announced a menu overhaul for some of its Ruth's Chris locations in North Carolina. Patrons there will have more non-beef options from which to choose when selecting entrees, appetizers, and sides. Among the introductions are a chop made from highly regarded Berkshire pork, a changing daily seafood special, a seafood tower of cold selections, a fish and sausage gumbo, and hash browns.
There Might Be More Ruth's Chris Steak Houses Opening For Business
With significant numbers of Times Square-adjacent office workers opting to labor from home into 2023, nearby lunch spots struggled, namely Ruth's Chris Steak House's prominent Manhattan location. The company shut down that branch in January 2023. But with Darden Restaurants purchasing the entire Ruth's Chris chain and injecting it with energy and millions in investments, it's more likely that new Ruth's Chris outlets will open up rather than close down.
Darden won't buy back the franchised restaurants, but it also won't be looking to open new locations under that kind of arrangement and will focus on its several dozen company-owned locations. Ruth's Chris is already expanding its Minnesota footprint with a second location, opening in Rochester's downtown in the spring of 2024. Additionally, tentative plans are in store to move out of North America and into Asia in the coming years. That goes along with a long-standing goal: Before its sale to Darden Restaurants, Ruth's Chris committed to an aggressive growth plan, considering opening as many as seven new outlets annually over the next few years.
Read the original article on Mashed.