Steak houses, when known for wine, are usually thought of as the home of high-prices for robust reds, lists bursting with sought-after Napa Cabs and other trophy wines. Getting known for a broader range of wines, as well as quality events and smart promotions was at the forefront, though, of the recent Ruth’s Chris Steak House commitment to the wine segment by hosting national wine dinners at many of its units across the U.S, a program that won the chain the VIBE Vista Award for Best Restaurant Wine Program earlier this year.
In the nationwide program, more than 2,000 guests experienced the same wines, dishes and pairing menus on the same night. Wine Ambassador hosts at each participating unit provided details of each wine to guests, and the inaugural year, 2011, culminated with a dinner partnering with famed Italian winery Antinori, and the participation of Marchese Piero Antinori, the chairman and patriarch of the family, who attended the dinner held at the Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Manhattan.
The dinners worked quite well, well enough for the chain to double down and host five dinners in 2012. Dinner prices varied by market, but they averaged $110 per customer.
The program brought some immediate marketing and promotional benefits, like the opportunity for the chain to crow about unique wines being served during the events. “We are proud to partner with Duckhorn Wine Company, one of America’s finest, to bring Ruth’s Chris Steak House guests an exclusive opportunity to be the first to taste the new vintage release of Paraduxx, said Helen Mackey, corporate director of beverage strategy for Ruth’s Hospitality Group, at the time. “With more than 80 participating restaurants enjoying the same innovative menu and wines on the same night, it will be one big Napa Valley-style celebration across the country and the largest wine dinner series in our company’s history.” Just the sort of story to attract media attention.
The reasoning behind such a promotion was plain: wine represents the majority of overall beverage sales for the chain, and providing educational evenings for their wine loving guests not only promised to increase sales, but also develop a loyal following among guests and local media. Some locations reported local “wine clubs” attending all the dinners.
Bolstered with guest giveaways and promoted via check stuffers, lobby posters, a social media plan and email blasts, the events did extremely well – the Duckhorn event attracted more than 2400 guests. Other dinners included the exclusive U.S. release of Penfolds Grange Shiraz and a mixed dinner featuring Moet Hennessey’s Glenmorangie Scotch, Moët Champagne and Casa Lapostolle Cabernet.
Of course, such a program needs solid training to back it up, which the chain has established through presentations in each restaurant location, a mandated certification program; corporate beverage training that includes wines, cocktails and spirits in current and historical terms, frequent tastings and available tasting notes of all wines, and a reward system for top performing servers.
As the largest upscale steak house company in the country, Ruth's Chris can help set trends not only in terms of wine sales but also wine appreciation. Just one more reason why the program took home the 2013 VIBE Vista Award.