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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the

August 29, 2001 edition of U.S. Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Out to Lunch: Ruby Tuesday

Good strategy, poor execution. That’s what my husband

and I say when one of us plans a tennis shot the other definitely

has no hope of returning — only to see it fly out of bounds. The

phrase applies perfectly to a new service just rolled out by Ruby

Tuesday, a chain of casual dining restaurants with a restaurant on

Route 1 South at Mapleton Road.

A PR representative from Ruby Tuesday called to tell us all about

it, and it sounded so good, so right on the money, so smart and

insightful,

that we couldn’t resist trying it. Called simply "To Go!,"

this is takeout with a twist. When you place a takeout order, give

the make and model of your car. Then pull up in front of the

restaurant,

head for one of the specially-marked To Go! spots, and — voila!

— your order will be brought right out to your car. Each

restaurant,

the press material claimed, has installed cameras that announce your

arrival, alerting the designated car-runner to rush out with your

order when you pull up.

Saving customers a 60-foot walk in from the parking lot is a small

thing, but Ruby Tuesday is astute in sensing that this tiny exertion

could be just the step that keeps some from ordering take-out food.

The same people who will walk happily for miles when their steps take

them past storefronts, gardens, and interesting homes, will not

tolerate

walking through a parking lot, pushing through the crowd waiting for

tables, and finding something to lean on while a takeout order is

being fetched from the kitchen. No one likes it. And after a day at

work, with a rush hour drive ahead, it is the sort of inconvenience

that causes potential takeout customers to decide to heat up some

soup instead of stopping.

Ruby Tuesday came up with a brilliant solution. Call ahead, drive

in, and off you go in a few seconds, lunch or dinner at your side.

The company has spent plenty promoting this service. A PR rep is busy

calling media folks like us. Large signs on every single table in

its restaurants announce To Go!. It is the theme of the company’s

website (www.rubytuesday.com). Cameras have been installed to spot

takeout customers, so we have been told. And right in front of the

Ruby Tuesday entrance are two prime parking spots marked by an orange

traffic cone and signs reading "To Go! Curbside Parking Only.

Welcome. We’ll be Right Out."

The execution problem, however, is major. When I called in an office

lunch order, I asked how I could pay for the food. Cash or credit

card would be fine, I was told. I could work out the details when

I came in. Wait. I hadn’t planned on going in.

"Won’t you bring the food out to my car?" I asked. Oh no,

I was told. The bartender was handling takeout, and she was too busy.

In short, the much-touted service was not available. Would it be

available

tomorrow, or the next day? I asked. No telling, was the answer. If

someone happens to be free, they will bring it out. The hostess didn’t

sound optimistic about that happy circumstance occurring any time

soon.

I canceled the order, but my office mates talked me into placing it

again. On the second call, I got the bartender herself. She explained

that she was alone and it would not be easy for her to get out. She

did say, however, that she was not terribly busy at the moment (11:20

a.m. on a Tuesday), and if I really didn’t want to come in, she would

be glad to bring the food out. I declined at that point. The whole

thing had begun to feel more like an emergency service, perhaps for

the severely restaurant-phobic, rather than a regular offering.

When I walked in, the bartender, a pleasant individual, brought the

order out within a minute or two. Asked about the curbside takeout

system, she said there were few calls for it at lunch time, which

is one reason that no one was assigned to run-outside duty at that

moment. The bigger demand, she says, occurs between 5 and 9 p.m.,

during which hours the service is offered on a more regular basis.

As I left, I couldn’t help but notice four servers standing near

the hostess stand. How much co-ordination would it have taken to

enlist

one of them to run out with an order?

There are other problems with Ruby Tuesday takeout. Menus are

available

online, but do not list prices. Orders cannot be placed online, but

require a phone call. Ruby Tuesday’s menu, like that at many casual

dining chains, is limited. Cheese is the star. Even the veggie burger

comes with several kinds of cheese. Mainstays are burgers, fried

appetizers,

and steaks in sauce. There is an extensive salad bar, but just two

salad takeout choices.

We ordered a Classic cheeseburger, a Chicken Caesar salad, with

dressing

on the side, and a "huge" baked potato. The hot food was hot,

and the cold food was cold. The French fries with the cheeseburger

were judged to be "delicious." The salad had been ordered

with dressing on the side — a request that was repeated twice

— because the diner recalled ordering it at Ruby Tuesday before

and finding the greens under way too much dressing. It arrived with

the dressing already added with a liberal hand.

Prices are in-line with those at similar restaurants — $6.50 for

a big burger with fries; $8 for a chicken Caesar salad. Ruby Tuesday

is a good option for takeout in any number of situations and its

strategy

is brilliant. Now, let’s have some execution.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Ruby Tuesday, Route 1 South at Mapleton Road.

609-514-1900.


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