By the end of the year, the company expects to improve labor as a percentage of sales by around 300 basis points compared to the full year of 2019. As the holiday season nears, Ruth’s is being strategic in putting additional initiatives in place to ensure staffing levels will be where they need to be.
“I'm not going to say it's easy and that's not more work and takes more attention from the management team as it does, but we feel confident that we will have the right team in the building,” Henry said.
Currently staffing levels are at 90 percent, a number the brand is satisfied with even if there do remain issues in the back of the house at some stores.
“We're happy with that because we did make the efficiency changes within the restaurant and eliminated the need for some positions, so we haven't seen some of the staffing shortages overall,” Henry said.
Another part of Ruth's investment in the future lies in growing its restaurant base. The chain opened a new restaurant in Short Hills, New Jersey in September, bringing in sales that outperform the system average. And that’s just the beginning of Ruth’s expansion. A new restaurant will open in Lake Grove, New York, before the end of the year, and the brand is on track to launch five new restaurants in 2022.
“You simply can't deliver solid long-term financial performance without unit growth, greater efficiency, and attention to detail within our four walls,” Henry said.
The company is also investing in technology. That includes enhancing the guest experience, reducing friction in the restaurant, and driving greater operational efficiency.
In Q3, Ruth’s made progress on implementing a POS and labor management system, with a full rollout expected in early 2022. The labor management centers around staffing busier days more effectively and takes into consideration no shows while ensuring Ruth’s can still accept walk-ins and prevent empty tables. The brand is also mining through data and testing ways to automate the restaurants.
“The intent is to better understand why our guests visit Ruth, and make sure each visit is further personalized by our staff,” Henry said.
The company has transitioned, like so many others, to adjust to rapidly changing consumers with their different demands sparked by a worldwide pandemic and technological evolution.
“Our whole focus has been, at least for the last year, to meet the guests where they are,” Henry said. “If they want Ruth's anywhere, if it's a private dining event, if it's outside in a tent, if it's all hard dining, bar dining, make sure that wherever the guest wants to be, we can accommodate it. We've seen them move within.”