As the economy has festered, fast-food and casual dining restaurants have been whipping out their mascara wands to class up their image while reassuring diners that the food is still cheap and the portions still monolithic. Burger King embarked on a bachelor pad-fabulous make-over, while Houston’s changed its name to Hillstone, perhaps because it conjured images of a gated community rather than beer stains and onion blossoms. Ruby Tuesday is the latest chain to make the bid for gentrification, and the Times Business Section yesterday ran an extensive article detailing its efforts.
While only one of the chain’s 896 locations is in New York City (in Times Square, of course), its attempts to capitalize on the appetites of self-proclaimed foodies are inspired by “the more affluent zip codes of this country,” like, ahem, ours. Apparently, Middle America is not as immune to our gastronomic obsessions as we’ve been led to believe — or more specifically, as restaurant corporations would like to believe. Whether Ruby Tuesday customers will be as willing to swallow the restaurant’s new schtick — dirt-cheap ingredients tarted up and sold at inflated prices by waiters wearing “hipster” black shirts and pants — remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure: Having opened a new location every nine months after launching the first Ruby Tuesday, CEO and founder Sandy Beall could teach Michael Bao Huynh a thing or two about empire building.