Mary Dutton is the general manager of the Ruth’s Chris restaurant that opened in Jersey City last month. She has been with the company for 10 years, previously serving in the same position at the brand’s Parsippany location. We caught up with her to talk steak, restaurants and doing business with businesses in Jersey City.
ROI-NJ: How will this location be different from Parsippany?
Mary Dutton: Parsippany was more of a suburban location. What we’re really excited about here is the commuter hub right across the street, all the walking traffic, the fact that we are connected to a very healthy and active mall, so we feel like this is going to be like a city location and much different than Parsippany.
ROI: Being in the heart of Jersey City’s financial district means there will be plenty of opportunities to interact with businesses. What is the marketing plan to attract those companies?
MD: We’ve put together a marketing plan that includes touching most of the large offices in all of these different buildings. And on our pre-opening nights, we had representatives from many of the large companies. We have a full-time sales manager, and she’s challenged to make sure that all of these companies and businesses know that we’re here and we have private dining space.
ROI: Talk about the restaurant itself: How the layout is different — it is much more open with a lot less of the dark wood that traditional steakhouses have. How will that help you attract more business, not to mention a business clientele?
MD: We’re really trying to move into the more light and airy and open active vibe than the old steakhouse experience of 20 years ago, where it was the dark wood and the dark curtains and the hushed tones. In all of our new stores now, we’ve put a lot more emphasis in the bar area and happy hours. We’ve had great success making this a meeting spot that people feel comfortable coming to one or two days a week instead of just a place that you can come two times a year on special occasions.
ROI: Let’s talk about the experience more. It still can be great for special occasions, but not everybody who walks in here wants a three-hour meal. How do you serve both needs?
MD: We actually recognize that as a brand, and have done a lot of work toward making this bar and lounge area a little quicker service, if that’s what the guests are desiring. We do have some lighter fare that’s available in here and a greater array of appetizers and quick meals.
And we’re also teaching our service and our bartenders to gauge what the guest is looking for when they come in. We ask them, ‘Are you on your way to something?’ And if they do want to have an hour meal, we are set up in the kitchen and both in our front of house training to get people in and out of here rapidly.
ROI: Steak restaurants came back in vogue about a decade ago. They clearly are going strong right now. But where do you see steak restaurants in the arc of the business — especially a business that is trying to figure out the eating habits of millennials?
MD: That’s an easy one. I’ve got a great answer for you. For 53 years and counting. There’s not too many other steak restaurants in the country that can say that they’ve been around for 50 years. I think the Ruth’s Chris brand is going to stand alone for 50 years going forward.