Ruby Tuesday Must Recapture ‘Brand Love,’ NRD's COO Says
Susan Beth, far left, talks about the importance of executing on the basics to get Ruby Tuesday back on track. Steve Hockett, CEO of Great Clips, and Taco John's franchisee Tamra Kennedy join in the panel discussion at the Faegre Baker Daniels Franchise Summit.
“My inbox was flooded with emails and text saying congrats,” recalled Susan Beth of the hours following NRD Capital’s announcement October 16, 2017, that it would acquire legacy restaurant chain Ruby Tuesday. “They all said, ‘I loved Ruby Tuesday,’ past tense.”
Speaking July 31 at the Faegre Baker Daniels Franchise Summit in Minneapolis, Beth, NRD’s chief operating officer, noted in the subsequent two years since the firm took the struggling franchise private it’s been focused on harnessing dormant devotion to the brand and improving the guest experience. “We have a very strong belief that that brand love and devotion is strong enough that if we can deliver on the basics—hot food hot, cold food cold, clean bathrooms and service with a smile—we can get them to love it again,” she said.
I caught up with Beth after the session, and while she declined to talk about specific strategies for turning around Ruby Tuesday, she stressed the team was “incredibly focused on winning on the basics.”
“The menu got too big, so a lot of work is going into that part,” said Beth, along with efforts to deliver a better customer experience, particularly as competition intensifies. “People are only going to give you so many chances. There’s too many options to not get it right.”
Beth was employee No. 1 in 2015 when she joined NRD Capital, the private equity fund launched by Aziz Hashim. In addition to Ruby Tuesday, the firm owns Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, Frisch’s Big Boy and South African restaurant Mike’s Kitchen, and has investments in Altitude Trampoline Park and Canadian restaurant concept The Captain’s Boil. Technology investments have become a focus in recent years, particularly in workplace and labor management, which Beth noted coincide with the operational needs of restaurants.
“Technology will continue to be instrumental in how businesses run operationally,” she said. “So how can we look to different companies that can help them be more efficient and profitable.”
The firm’s made minority investments in companies such as 1Huddle, a gamified training application, and Next, a work sharing platform that enables shift sharing by crew members across stores belonging to a multi-unit operator. “We focused on pain points” in the restaurant brands NRD is invested in, said Beth, “with a lot of focus on the labor piece—recruit, train, retain.”
Artificial intelligence is another investment area, with NRD also a backer of ValyantAI, a customer facing restaurant ordering system. The role of AI, said Beth, is only going to grow “as consumers continue to change and demand a more customized, personalized experience.”
“We’re not approaching our tech investments on who’s going to be the next Uber,” she continued. “We’re focused on how to make franchisees more profitable, more efficient.
“We want to make sure we’re solving a problem, not just putting in tech for tech’s sake.”