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Value Meals Hit the Fine Dining Segment

You say times are tough at your restaurant? Think what it’s like at big-ticket operations like Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. They’re set up to cater to a clientele for whom price is no object, a disappearing demographic these days. What to do? These two operations have finally succumbed to the inevitable by offering prix fixe meals at a low-ball (for them) price they hope will help fill seats. So what does prix fixe mean today at the very high end of the fine dining world? Read on.

Just to underline what’s going on here, almost anyone would be ecstatic to eat at restaurants of the caliber of Ruth’s Chris and Guy Savoy. But a lot of the customers who used to frequent these places can’t afford them anymore. Ruth’s Chris depends a lot on business entertaining, and the volume of businesspeople able to charge a pricey steakhouse meal to their company-issued platinum credit card and then get a no-questions-asked reimbursement from the T&E department has shrunk dramatically. Likewise, there are far fewer Vegas high rollers getting comped meals at Guy Savoy these days, and the who-cares-what-it-costs tourists have dwindled, too.

Enter the value deals. Here’s what Ruth’s Chris is offering this fall

The chain is going with something it calls Ruth’s Fall Classics; i.e., complete meals that include a starter, entrée, “personal side dish” and dessert for either of two prices, $39.95 or $49.95.

Either price points get the customer his or her starter choice of:

• Louisiana Seafood Gumbo

• Steak House Salad

• Caesar Salad

• Harvest Salad

From there, the $39.95 crowd gets to choose from an entrée lineup that includes:

• Filet & Shrimp (6 oz. steak plus three grilled shrimp)

• Braised Short Ribs

• Stuffed Chicken Breast

• Fresh Atlantic Salmon

Entrée options for the relatively higher-rolling customers paying $49.95 are:

• Filet (11 oz.)

• Ribeye (16 oz.)

• Lamb Chops (three extra-thick chops)

• Chilean Sea Bass

The side dish lineup offers five items: baked corn pudding, green beans with roasted garlic, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach or sautéed mushrooms.

The final course is the “Fall Symphony Dessert,” consisting of Ruth’s own carrot cake, chocolate mousse and a crème brulee sampler.

It’s a simple, well-thought-out offering. When the goal is to fill up the seats and hope the customers buy some full-price wine or cocktails while they’re eating, this sounds like the type of menu and price points that can do it.

It’s a little more complicated at Guy Savoy. Usually, the big problem for a three-Michelin-star chef like Savoy is finding tables for the many patrons who come to pay homage. Now, at least at his Las Vegas operation, he has to drum up business just like other operators have to do.

To get it, he’s offering two value-priced additions to his prix fixe lineup, including an under-$100 early bird special (for 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. reservations only) consisting of three courses and a four-course $140 version designed “for guests who wish to experience highlights from Savoy’s signature collection but are short on time.” For the latter, the restaurant promises to have customers in and out in 90 minutes—perhaps the first time the speed of the dining experience has mattered in a Michelin star-rated restaurant.

From there the offerings and price points ratchet up to the full price options: the “Elegance” menu ($190), the “Menu Prestige,” ($290) and the $750 “Krug” menu, much of whose stratospheric price is driven by the vintage Krug champagnes that accompany the meal and the special Krug Room in which patrons consume it all.

But even the low-end $98 “pre-theater” menu includes such showstoppers as Savoy’s signature artichoke and black truffle soup with toasted mushroom brioche and black truffle butter; his poached-roasted baby chicken with couscous of cauliflower, spinach puree and mustard jus; and a take-what-you want visit from the opulent dessert trolley. Prior to the economic slowdown, you couldn’t touch food like this for these prices.

Both Ruth’s Chris and Guy Savoy are showing us that even the fine dining sector has to respond to the changing consumer dynamic in the restaurant world. Their prix fixe moves are telling us that even on special occasions, customer still want a deal.