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Ruth's Chris reopening amid coronavirus with digital menus, masked servers

Cortney Moore

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Ruth's Chris Steak House is reopening 12 of its 86 company-owned restaurants in Texas, Florida and Tennessee and has a plan on how to deal with the coronavirus inside its establishments, according to a first-quarter conference call.

Dining rooms began closing in March when the major outbreak in the U.S. became a cause for concern. By April, all dining rooms were closed while Ruth's Chris transitioned its services to takeout and delivery operations in 56 locations.

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April’s comparable restaurant sales decreased by 83.5 percent from the prior year and averaged $19,200 weekly. Ruth's Chris is aiming to turn this trend around by reopening company-owned locations. Some franchised restaurants have already opened dining rooms with seating capacity limited between 25 and 50 percent.

Each reopened restaurant will follow state and local health guidelines.

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Up to 30 restaurants may be able to reopen by the end of the second quarter, depending on which states end shelter-in-place mandates. At this time, California, Florida and Hawaii have the greatest concentration of Ruth's Chris restaurants.

For added safety, restaurant employees will wear face masks in reopened locations. Guests will access dinner and wine menus on their smartphones by scanning a QR code, to minimize menu handling between servers and guests. Wait staff will also reduce the number of times they check in with diners, though, executives at Ruth's Chris stress that customers will still receive high-end hospitality.

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Moreover, private seating will be available while select steakhouses are trying to expand outdoor dining options.

"I want to express my extreme gratitude to the incredible group of people that I have the privilege of serving with – our Ruth’s Chris team members and franchise partners. It is no surprise to me that they have risen to meet this unique challenge," said Cheryl Henry, the president and CEO of the restaurant chain’s parent company, Ruth's Hospitality Group, Inc.

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"Our brand has a rich history of successfully responding to adversity and I am enormously proud of the tireless efforts of our people to transform our business and continue to take care of our guests," she added. "We are planning for the re-opening of our dining rooms and welcoming our guests and employees back with their safety and well-being remaining our primary concern."

At some franchise locations, dining rooms have reached set seating capacity, which Henry takes as a sign that U.S. consumers want to dine out again as they did before.

Total revenues in the first quarter of 2020 decreased by 9.4 percent to $108.5 million, compared to $119.7 million in the first quarter of 2019, according to Ruth’s Hospitality Group’s financial results.

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Net loss in the first quarter of 2020 was $3.8 million, compared to net income of $13.9 million in the first quarter of 2019.

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There are more than 150 Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations around the world.

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