A Return to Salad Days: 5 Questions With Ruby Tuesday CMO Dave Skena

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Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday zigged when the brand should have zagged several years ago in tacking toward a more adults-only positioning and away from the family-friendliness that at least was part of its persona.

And now it’s up to Dave Skena—the new CMO of the Marysville, Tenn.-based casual-eatery chain—to turn Ruby Tuesday around again toward a face that welcomes parents and their children—especially as America’s largest generation, the millennials, increasingly are bearing kids.

So the chain of 733 restaurants, most of them in the US east of the Mississippi, is testing a new salad-based menu strategy that appeals to moms, pivoting completely out of TV and radio advertising, and even considering restaurant remodeling—all as part of the brand repositioning efforts.

“We want to put the brand back where it belonged for a very long time” as a mainstream casual brand with broad appeal, said Skena, who came to the Ruby Tuesday job last summer from PepsiCo, where he was vice president of value brands such as Funyuns and premium brands such as Stacy’s Pita Chips.

There’s even a new online-only, three-minute video ad, “Shy Girl,” in which the Garden Bar at a Ruby Tuesday becomes the vehicle for building a new friendship between two young girls and a source of great satisfaction to a mom who sees what’s happening.

brandchannel talked with Skena about how he’s remaking the Ruby Tuesday brand.

bc: What do you see as the challenges and the opportunities with this brand?

Ruby Tuesday David Skena

Dave Skena: The casual-dining segment is under a lot of pressure from fast-casual but we’re a company that isn’t fully national. There’s a lot of opportunity for Ruby Tuesday to be differentiated versus our casual-dining competitors: on vegetables. This is a constantly emerging trend. Health and wellness plays have been around forever but all these hot restaurant concepts popping up tend to be unique burgers or unique salads.

Ruby Tuesday has the opportunity to be a casual-dining, great-salad concept with a full menu on the side that everyone in the family can love. This is a great opportunity to drive home our key differentiators and direct our target at the right audience.

Ruby Tuesday

bc: Why are you rallying around the salad portion of the Ruby Tuesday menu and not something else?

Skena: How are we the same and how are we different from our competitive set? On the fit-in part, a lot of folks can make a great burger, including us. We have a nice, wide variety—more than some competitors. Also, our burgers are fresh and hand-crafted. But some of them are imitable.

What’s really attractive on the differentiated side is that our Garden Bar has been part of Ruby Tuesday history for decades. When you do consumer research and ask people to recall something about Ruby Tuesday, most folks say the Garden Bar. And a majority of customers enjoy the Garden Bar as a major entree or a side.

bc: What is differentiating about the Garden Bar?

Skena: It’s unique within the bar-and-grill space. And it’s bubbling up as something that consumers are more and more interested in. Everywhere but Atlanta, where our test is, our Garden Bar has 34 items, a wider variety than a lot of competitors. Also you can take as many trips as you want, which is different than most of the new salad concepts. It also taps into the concept of customization; you never need to make the same salad twice.

But in the test, which we’re doing in 24 restaurants, we wanted to contemporize things, change some ingredients and add some. So we have a little over 70 ingredients in those Garden Bars, including things like artichoke hearts, roasted butternut squash, marinated mushrooms and candied walnuts—things that’ll let you make any salad you can dream up.

Ruby Tuesday

bc: Is this basically to make a play for moms?

Skena: We’d like to invite moms with young families back to our restaurants. Before an earlier brand transformation, for a long time people loved Ruby Tuesday and it did very well. And then in 2007 and 2008, there were a lot of changes that made the restaurant less appealing to families, such as removing diaper-changing tables in the restrooms. The music and lighting were changed, too.

Now we want Ruby Tuesday to be more casual and approachable for family dining. So kids eat free on Tuesdays, for instance. And moms know that the Garden Bar is an excellent place for her whole family. We’ll never go away from having a great variety of ribs and hamburgers, but we want to attract moms and make sure everyone knows there’s something for them.

Ruby Tuesday

bc: You’re also pulling the plug on all TV and radio in favor of all digital and social marketing?

Skena: Yes, that’s a big change. Geography plays into it. I’m not sure we would have the urgency to try this at scale if we had the same number of restaurants in every sate. There are some benefits of social and digital that make us want to try this approach. One is that we can be extremely geo-targeted, because all of our social is occurring within 10 miles of a Ruby Tuesday.

Another benefit of social or online video is to be able to pick any set of demographic indicators you want and home in on moms with young families, for example, who m ay not have seen things from Ruby Tuesday for a while. We can push all that media weight into a relatively small group of concentric circles around our restaurants. That’s very helpful and a reason why we’re all-in.


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