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CX Innovators: Kevin FitzPatrick, Ruby Tuesday

Harnessing New Programs and Technology to Evolve the Restaurant Customer Experience

Ruby Tuesday CX Innovators

Kevin FitzPatrick is currently Senior Vice President, Digital & Performance Marketing at Ruby Tuesday, the Maryville, Tennessee-based restaurant operator with more than 200 locations worldwide. FitzPatrick joined the company about a year ago, bringing almost two decades of relevant retail and restaurant industry experience to the role. He has long operated at the intersection of finance and marketing, having held previous posts at Dr. Pepper/7-Up, Blockbuster, GameStop, and Dave & Buster’s (D&B) prior to joining Ruby Tuesday.

Most Significant CX Challenges

Kevin FitzPatrick, SVP Digital & Performance Marketing, Ruby Tuesday

“Retail is easy when it comes to loyalty,” says FitzPatrick, referring to his prior experience in contrast to some of the more significant challenges in the restaurant business. Retail point-of-sale (POS) systems are a natural way to capture, identify, and attribute customer information, he says – and during his time at GameStop, they were capturing 70% of all interactions at a customer level. In a restaurant, however, the customer experience is largely driven by the wait staff and the technology is on the other side of the restaurant.

The fast casual segment of the market has been the darling of the restaurant industry, says FitzPatrick, but it was hit significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated impacts to customer behavior. As restaurant operators embrace more technology, a phenomenon accelerated by the pandemic, CX is increasingly being driven by mobile apps, the ability to order/pay at the table, QR codes, and so forth. Integration of these new technology capabilities is a real challenge, especially considering that many restaurants have legacy systems that must be integrated.

CX Success Stories

Just less than a year into his role at Ruby Tuesday, FitzPatrick says they are really just getting started on CX initiatives and are prioritizing technology investments and business process changes. However, he hearkens back to some of the considerable success stories he and the rest of the team had during his previous position at Dave & Buster’s. That business model, which combines restaurant operations in a sport bar atmosphere with an extensive video arcade, is unique in that approximately 60% of revenue comes from the games side of the house, with the food side being more challenged. D&B had an “unreal” number of data sources, says FitzPatrick, which made the implementation of a customer data platform (CDP) a challenge but also an imperative, for purposes of understanding the full customer journey and being able to better tie behavior to individual customers. In addition, D&B had a legacy customer rewards program, but did not get a lot of engagement, so they launched a new one, the timely deployment of which was considered an unusual success story.

Internal Barriers

For Ruby Tuesday, as with many organizations, a greater focus on CX and moving to a digital experience for customers is a major focus for the organization, with strong support from the CEO and board of directors. “A lot of it is making sure you have alignment from the top,” says FitzPatrick. He also notes that one Ruby Tuesday board member, Adam Brotman, was responsible for creating Starbucks’ rewards program, during his time as executive vice president of global retail operations and chief digital officer. Many internal barriers to launching CX initiatives can be successfully overcome with such strong executive sponsorship.

Key Technologies

Ruby Tuesday aims to use its loyalty program to understand who is in the restaurant, what they are doing, lapses in behavioral patterns, and other key indicators. The company currently operates using no personally identifiable information (PII) associated with transactions. Instead, they are working with outside partners to use credit card matching data for each transaction to correlate those transactions with known customer profiles contained in a clearinghouse database. “Part of it is making sure you have the end goal in mind,” says FitzPatrick, observing that existing technology can be harnessed in new and creative ways rather than relying entirely on new technology investments.

The company’s current focus is getting a new loyalty program up and running, including implementation of a new coupon system, working around legacy system limitations. Looking forward, FitzPatrick anticipates utilizing an iterative approach to improving the customer experience through technology, incorporating tableside ordering, pay at table capabilities, and a new POS system.

Predictions for CX Market Development

FitzPatrick observes that we are beginning to see more customer experiences happening in a virtual environment, which he acknowledges would be new and somewhat unusual for a restaurant dining or takeout experience, especially since the restaurant industry tends to lag retail in terms of technology innovation and adoption. He points out that non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are cutting edge innovations, and companies such as Starbucks are beginning to offer digital assets as part of their loyalty programs.

The key, says FitzPatrick, is enabling the guest to drive their own experience. The model of the future will include more automation through kiosks and more self-service ordering, which in turn will redefine the responsibilities of restaurant staff and change the staffing level requirements.

About the CX Innovator Series

The CX Innovator Series is an actionable and educational industry initiative that showcases the best practices that leading end-user executives are using within their organizations to shape their community’s experience. The series is a collaborative effort between Dash Network, Sleeping Giant Labs, and Team Wakabayashi. Using expertly curated executive interviews combined with quantitative research from consumer surveys, the CX Innovator Series provides tangible insights and a deeper understanding of how successful companies are utilizing CX programs resulting in positive business outcomes.

The CX Innovator Series is made possible by support from our lead sponsors: Concentrix, eGain, Tealium, and QuestionPro. If you would be interested in participating in the CX Innovator initiative, either as part of an end-user interview or as a supporting sponsor, please contact us.

Author Information

Clint brings over 20 years of market research and consulting experience, focused on emerging technology markets. He was co-founder and CEO of Dash Network, an integrated research and digital media firm focused on the CX market, which was acquired by The Futurum Group in 2022. He previously founded Tractica with a focus on human interaction with technology, including coverage of AI, user interface technologies, advanced computing, and other emerging sectors. Acquired by Informa Group, Clint served as Chief Research Officer for Informa’s research division, Omdia, with management and content strategy responsibility, formed by the combination of Tractica, Ovum, IHS Markit Technology, and Heavy Reading.
Clint was previously the founder and President of Pike Research, a leading market intelligence firm focused on the global clean technology industry, which was acquired by Navigant Consulting where he was Managing Director of the Navigant Research business.

Prior to Pike Research, Clint was Chief Research Officer at ABI Research, a New York-based industry analyst firm concentrating on the impact of emerging technologies on global consumer and business markets.

Clint holds a Master of Business Administration in Telecommunications Management from the University of Dallas and a Bachelor of Arts in History from Washington & Lee University.

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