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Turnaround report: Ruby Tuesday opts for research and croutons; Friendly’s tries a drive-thru; Del Frisco’s chews on ops

The bar is back at Ruby Tuesday

When Ruby Tuesday decided to recast itself several years ago as a cool, trendy restaurant, its signature salad bar posed a problem. The feature was too popular and fundamental to the concept to scrap, but how many Zagat-rated places try to draw the dressed-in-black set with unlimited serve-yourself salad? It was the concept’s leisure suit in the closet, and a bright powder-blue one at that.

Now, as new management continues to backtrack from that disastrous move upmarket, the salad bar is being rolled into the spotlight again. CEO JJ Buettgen revealed last week that the struggling casual-dining chain has conducted research “to understand how we can further improve the signature Garden Bar to be even more relevant for today's consumers.

“We expect to be in test with meaningful Garden Bar upgrades later this quarter,” he said.

Research also guided the chain in a makeover of the menu, which will be revealed next month, Buettgen said. He characterized the new and revised items as smile inducers for guests as well as the concept’s operations team. He predicted to investors that half of all customers would order the new or revamped items as soon as they’re available.

The chain needs the repeat business. Traffic fell 2.9 percent during Ruby’s most recent fiscal quarter.

Friendly’s saves mom a walk

The newest turnaround tactic for the Friendly’s family restaurant chain is a discouragement to stepping inside one of the restaurants—a breakthrough that could bring tears to harried parents’ eyes. A branch in the concept’s home state of Massachusetts is testing the impact on business of letting families get their ice creams and Fribbles without leaving the car and plucking Mom and Dad’s nerves. It’s the first in the system to try a drive-thru.

Friendly’s is also looking to gin up its convenience by opening express stores in nontraditional locations, like Boston’s Logan Airport, and experimenting with a new generation of mall restaurants.

Del Frisco’s new steakhouses to be rarer

Despite the “resounding” financial performance of recently opened additions, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group is tempering development plans for 2016 to focus on operations and site selection, CEO Mark Mednansky said in a statement.

The problem remains the steak specialist’s most moderately priced steak concept, Del Frisco’s Grille, which suffered a 3.5 percent decline in same-store sales for the third quarter. Management has acknowledged a need to correct perceptions of the brand; consumers perceive it as being more upscale than the restaurants actually are, they contend.

The Grille is the group’s growth concept. But no more than three of the restaurants will open next year, Mednansky indicated.

The only other development will be the relocation of the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle in North Dallas to the city’s so-called Uptown area. 

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