Monday, January 9, 2012

Ruby sweats its upkeep bills

Ruby Tuesday hasn’t exactly pursued a me-too strategy for the post-Recession, as Restaurant Reality Check noted six months ago. So how’s that contrarian approach working?

Not well, judging from the company’s financial results for the October-through-November period. As you might have heard, Ruby lost $2 million for the quarter, compared with a net income of $4.6 million for the same period of the prior year.

Buying restaurants from franchisees, a 180-degree departure from what most chains are doing today, helped to raise revenues by almost 6 percent. But the gain was far more than offset by debt expenses and a steeper-than-expected decline in unit sales, which came despite new service and value initiatives.

Does that mean the company is scrapping its contrarian views? Well, yes and no.

As we noted here in July, the company’s namesake chain is betting it can win more bargain-hunters by giving customers access to its salad bar without an add-on charge. It’s sticking with that more-is-lots-more approach. In a call with financial analysts, executives spoke cryptically of additional service enhancements that are currently in test at 10% of company-run Ruby units.

They didn’t reveal all the components of the new Surprise & Delight initiative, but did divulge such components as shaking martinis tableside, and having servers grate Parmesan cheese onto patrons’ entrees after they’re served.

But the biggest disclosure was a mention that Ruby plans to follow the herd for a huge savings on routine restaurant upkeep—repair & maintenance, or R&M, in industry parlance. Instead of letting each restaurant handle that function, Ruby is going to centralize control, “which a lot of the QSR chains and some of the other casual dining chains have gone to,” explained CEO Sandy Beall.

Ruby is confident it can deliver millions in savings by consolidating its expenditures for R&M. “It's approximately [a] $40 million spend a year annually, and we believe that through using a consolidated group that we can better monitor our rates and our costs on the actual parts and what have you,” said EVP and operations specialist Kimberly Grant.

“It's basically bulk buying power for the services we're participating with,” added Beall. “It's like a huge co-op, so better pricing.”

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