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Behind the Line: Somewhere in between
Marlin & Ray’s fills a key seafood niche for Ruby Tuesday
By Lauren Kramer
September 01, 2012
Ruby Tuesday has faced flagging sales for some time. Same-restaurant sales for the fiscal year 2012 decreased 5.7 percent at U.S. franchised units. Although the company closed 25 restaurants, the locations that did a high volume of seafood sales were converted into a new brand: Marlin & Ray’s, a group of seafood restaurants with a lively atmosphere.
“Marlin & Ray’s provided a conversion strategy at an investment cost of less than $500,000 in markets where we had a high density of Ruby Tuesdays,” says Richard Flaherty, VP-operations. “We recognized there was some consumer demand for seafood, so we looked at the landscape of competition surrounding that restaurant, and where there wasn’t direct competition for seafood we saw it as an opportunity to introduce Marlin & Ray’s.”
The first location opened in Maryville, Tenn., in April 2011 and others soon followed: Knoxville, Tenn.; Manassas, Fairfax and Stafford, Va.; Acworth and Lithonia, Ga.; Hilliard and West Chester, Ohio; Bensalem, Pa.; and most recently, Wilmington, N.C., in May.
The restaurants’ original Ruby Tuesday configuration has remained the same, with the exception of the salad bars that were removed. “That gives us more room for the bar areas, where we’ve introduced large community tables,” Flaherty says.
While Ruby Tuesday’s alcohol sales generate 10 percent of revenues, at Marlin & Ray’s alcohol accounts for between 18 and 21 percent of sales. “That’s driven by the atmosphere of the restaurant we’re introducing,” he says. “It’s a fish campy, fun, lively, value-based environment that promotes having a great margarita or signature cocktail. When you come in it’s like you’re on vacation.”
Marlin & Ray’s target demographic is similar to that of Ruby Tuesday’s, with an average age of 25 to 42 and an average household income of between $55,000 and $75,000. The restaurant is also targeting a secondary entry-point consumer, the 22- to 30-year-old.
Seafood constitutes 90 percent of the menu and Marlin & Ray’s leverages its purchasing power from Ruby Tuesday. There’s an average of 11 species on the menu, including lobster from Maine or Canada, snow crab from the North Atlantic or Alaska, Pacific Rim tilapia and Chilean salmon.
The company conducts its own quality assurance tests and uses outside inspectors to ensure suppliers pass rigorous standards for food safety and cleanliness.
Specials include the $11.99 all-you-can-eat shrimp and a shellfish sampler for $18.99 and there’s a good selection of sandwiches and salads.
Menu staples include hand-breaded fried oysters, salmon and mussels, while calamari, snow crab legs, grouper and mahimahi are other top sellers. Diners can choose their grilled seafood blackened, in a Cajun cream sauce or in a lemon butter sauce. The average check is $18 and all meals come with a bottomless house salad and jalapeno cheddar muffins. “We believe we’re providing at minimum a two-course meal,” Flaherty adds.
To date the menu is identical across all the Marlin & Ray’s restaurants, but that will change, he says. “There are regional seafood preferences that we need to capitalize on and ensure we’re incorporating into specific menus.”
The initial sales goal at Marlin & Ray’s is to generate $500,000 more than what the Ruby Tuesday was previously making in the same location. Because Marlin & Ray’s is open only for dinner, shifts are down to nine per week, as compared to 14 per week at Ruby Tuesday. Flaherty says the company is “definitely achieving its sales goal and exceeding it, in many locations.” As a result, more Marlin & Ray’s locations are planned, with seven more opening by the end of the year. Plans for fiscal 2013 include five to seven new units.Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in Richmond, British Columbia