Friday, November 07, 2008

No Happy Meal toy, though

Discounting, it seems, is highly relative. Knocking $2 off the price of a pie may work in the pizza business, but the high-ticket Ruth’s Chris chain has to operate on a different scale. So, after posting a 15-percent drop in comp sales for its non-franchised steakhouses, the wheezing brand is planning a mail drop of $25-off coupons. It's also experimenting with the fine-dining equivalent of value meals.

Upper-bracket bargain hunters will already find a new steal at the (steak)house that Ruth built: A five-ounce lobster tail stuffed with crab meat and coupled with a six-ounce beef filet for $39.95. Not exactly a Chicken Snack Wrap, but clearly a deep discount by the standards of the chain's market.

Three other Cadillac-echelon combos are in test. The Ruth’s Classic comes in two versions. For $39.95, patrons can pick an entrée, side and dessert. If they pop for the $49.95 version, the choices also include a full-sized rib eye, a lobster tail and lamb chops.

Simultaneously, the chain is testing a three-protein deal that would make Michael Jacobson overheat before he could condemn it as an obesity booster: A meat, a fish, and a chicken selection, accompanied by a side and a dessert, for $44.95.

“Frankly it's too much food,” Ruth’s Chris acting CEO Michael O’Donnell told shareholders.

And, perhaps, too much of an outlay. O’Donnell said the Ruth’s Trio will be recast with smaller portions and a price “in the $29.95 range.”

During a financial conference call convened by the chain’s parent, Ruth’s Hospitality Group, O'Donnell also mentioned a re-affiliation with Cameron Mitchell, the Columbus, Ohio, restaurateur who sold the company his Mitchell’s Fish Market and Mitchell’s Steakhouse chains. O’Donnell wasn’t clear on the nature of the affiliation, but indicated that the entrepreneur would be accessible if the company needed his expertise. “He has kindly agreed to be available to us on a limited basis,” O’Donnell said.

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