While the pandemic has forced a massive number of restaurant closings, large corporate chains with deep holdings and access to venture capital have largely been spared. That is not the case for Ruby Tuesday, which has announced that it will be permanently closing 150 of its locations.
As reported by the industry publication Restaurant Business, the closures account for more than a third of the chain’s locations and were hastened by COVID-19, but not caused by it. Ruby Tuesday had been losing money for years, and when it was purchased in 2017 by the private equity firm NRD Capital, in the words of CEO Aziz Hashim, “It’s no big secret that the business plan for Ruby Tuesday from the day we bought it was to cull the weaker units.”
For fans of all-you-can-eat french fries (the chain’s primary, if not only signature hook) this is probably a blow. But on a larger scale the closure raises the question of what kind of role Ruby Tuesday—and other similar restaurants—still plays in the United States. Restaurant Business says that Ruby Tuesday’s slow demise is tied to customers shifting their attention to fast food and fast casual restaurants, and fast casual brands are frequently positioned as a sort of restaurant boogeyman, lurking in the shadows waiting to tempt customers away with short waits and customized meals.
But maybe the problem isn’t that customers are fickle and only want food in composted bowls; maybe it’s that sit-down chain restaurants owe their existence to a form of capitalism that beleaguers its employees. It’s not fun dining out when you know your tired, clearly overworked server probably doesn’t have health insurance or receive a living wage. And it’s not enticing when a venture capital CEO says that their plan to save a business is to cut it down to the bone and lay off a bunch of people who likely don’t have many other options.
Or, maybe we’re all just cooking more than we used to, and know more about food, and places like Ruby Tuesday simply aren’t necessary in the way they used to be. Not everyone can prepare a gourmet meal, but, in the words of Chef Gusteau, anyone can cook. At the end of the day, do we actually need Ruby Tuesday? Because it looks like we might not.