Secrets Ruth's Chris Never Wanted You To Know

What started as a small restaurant in New Orleans and now finds its name splashed across more than 150 locations around the world, Ruth's Chris Steak House is an instantly recognizable brand among steak lovers who prefer a more upscale dining experience. The venerable restaurant chain prides itself on its USDA Prime beef cuts, still served sizzling hot and topped with butter exactly as founder, Ruth Fertel, ordained in 1965, and diners must agree, returning time and again for more than 50 years.

Still, despite the restaurant's overwhelming expansion and lasting success, no brand weathers more than half a century without sweeping at least a little dust under the rug, and Ruth's Chris is no exception. Whether they qualify as serious skeletons in the closet or mere unpleasantries to be tucked away discreetly is up to you to decide, but the long history of Ruth's Chris is certainly not without blunders and unfortunate realities that it would surely like to keep buried. Here are several secrets Ruth's Chris never wanted its customers to know about.

Ruth's Chris took $20 million in small business relief loans during the pandemic

Americans love a scandal, except when it comes at their own expense. In 2020, Ruth's Chris faced some serious backlash from the national public when it was revealed that it had applied for and received $20 million in small business loans from the emergency Payment Protection Program (PPP) provided by the federal government. It's not that the hospitality group did anything illegal or even underhanded — in fact, the entire restaurant industry received an exception that allowed large businesses with fewer than 500 employees per location to apply — it's just that Americans didn't appreciate the nation's largest chains gobbling up the protection originally intended for actual small businesses. After all, the available funds were limited and the program dried up almost immediately after behemoths like Ruth's Chris took their massive bites.

In traditional American style, petitions were enthusiastically signed and the incredible pressure felt by Ruth's Chris ultimately proved too great to shoulder. In the end, the restaurant chain returned the money so it could be redistributed to truly small businesses struggling to survive the most difficult economic burden in recent history. Whether or not it was too little too late is another story.

Ruth's Chris were sued for sex discrimination

Even worse than mere scandals, lawsuits can be among the most damaging events to a brand's reputation, and the Ruth's Chris sex discrimination suit was no exception (via Forbes). Compounding an already sticky situation, the brand famously founded by female entrepreneur Ruth Fertel wasn't just faced with a single accuser, but the group of women who stepped forward to object to the brand's alleged actions were granted class-action status as they pursued damages against the national chain.

All of the claimants in the class-action suit were female former employees and they ranged in rank from bartender all the way up to national sales manager. The allegations were serious, including offenses from discrimination and unfair promotion and firing practices to "sexually hostile and demeaning behavior" from male coworkers, including supervisors. As expected, Ruth's Chris denied all allegations of sex discrimination from the start, but the reputational damage may already have been done in the court of public opinion, true or not.

Even the owner hated the Ruth's Chris name

"Ruth's Chris Steak House" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Through the years, the clunky combination of names has proved difficult to both remember and pronounce correctly, leaving plenty of diners frustrated, but they're not the only ones who have resented the awkward name. It turns out founder Ruth Fertel, herself, hated the name as much as anyone else, and that was the case from the moment it was chosen (via CNN Money).

So why was "Ruth's Chris" selected if even Ruth couldn't stand the awkward combo of names? The reason involves legal technicalities, and also answers the implied question of who Chris is. In 1965, Ruth bought Chris Steak House from failed original owner Chris Matulich, who had actually sold this business six times already, but she managed something remarkable neither Chris nor its string of previous owners ever could: financial success. 

When it came time to expand to a second location to support all of the business pouring in, Chris objected to the repeated use of his name and, to resolve legal complications, Ruth altered the official name by adding hers to the front. Had she known the business would eventually go national, she may have sought a more elegant solution to the problem; instead, we now have a nation of confounded beef lovers who continue to chow down regardless of whether they can correctly name their favorite steak house.

Not all chefs are equal

Ruth's Chris may be an American favorite, generally respected as a top steak house around the country, but consistency with its menu offerings appears not to be one of the brand's specialties. While the company's enduring success implies a reasonably strong level of quality that brings diners in year after year, plenty of reviews to point some serious mishaps in steak preparation, and there's no greater steak house sin than, well, bad steak.

Brenda M. on Trip Advisor complained that, even though she'd visited the Odenton, Maryland, location several times before, a disappointing ribeye was bad enough that she wasn't sure she'd ever return again. Worse, Palmer R., a fan of Ruth's Chris who claims to have dined at multiple locations in various cities, usually with exceptional results, appears to have had the misfortune of an all-around horrible meal that no one in his family enjoyed when he visited the Roseville, California, location. From poorly dressed steak to cold French fries and uncooked potatoes au gratin that were sent back twice, it seems as though this particular chef couldn't get anything right.

The butter may be better than the steak

The specialty of any steakhouse should obviously be its steak menu, and that's surely the number one reason hungry patrons pour into Ruth's Chris Steak House, but their delight with the sizzling slabs of beef may not be entirely about the meat itself. As in any industry, it's not news to anyone that sensory upgrades can improve the dining experience, but it may be surprising to steak hounds to learn that Ruth Fertel had a very simple trick up her sleeve to delight almost any diner ordering one of her steaks. According to the New York Times, it was the simple act of adding some butter to the top of every steak just as it left the kitchen.

Butter on steak isn't a novel presentation and it's not hard to understand that the simple ingredient instantly makes many mouths happy regardless of what's underneath it, but it's the timing of Ruth's butter-bombing that made it so successful. According to one former assistant manager on Quora, when the clarified butter drips off the edge of the steak and hits the scorching hot plate, fresh from the oven, it produces a sizzle that screams "hot off the grill" as it reaches the table in front of hungry diners. Something as simple as the sound of the sizzle, that actually has nothing to do with the steak at all, may be priming consumers to appreciate the dish before they even take a bite.

No one likes the sides at Ruth's Chris

They may not be the star of a steak house menu, but side dishes are fairly important to most diners. Sure, some carnivores may only settle into a table at Ruth's Chris for the meat and nothing more, but the majority of guests want to complement their cuts with a veggie or two (or at least French fries, which you can technically consider a vegetable dish, however lacking in nutrition the preparation may be). At Ruth's Chris, though, side dishes are a thorny subject for plenty of diners regularly leaving irritated reviews online.

A common complaint across reviews is that Ruth's Chris serves all of its side dishes family-style, which means you're getting a giant portion of any dish you order, even if you're the only person at the table who wants it. Aside from the increased cost that comes with oversize portions, some people simply don't want that much asparagus, leaving one diner to label the policy "just silly." Some side dishes, like the steamed broccoli, garner gripes of being unseasoned and the Brussels sprouts don't fare much better. One diner is even convinced that just about anyone can cook most of these side dishes at home better than anything they'll find in the restaurant. Even a Ruth's Chris fan who loves their steaks and rates the restaurant 5 stars on Yelp still admits that the side dishes may not be that great.

Patrons hate the hot plates

Ruth's Chris is famous for its intensely hot plates, which are heated to a staggering 500° before the presentation. As you've already learned, that's great for causing the melting butter that tops each steak to sizzle as it's served, but it appears that plenty of patrons are less than enthused by the ancillary effects of the restaurant's favorite gimmick.

Most reviewers acknowledge that waitstaff offer plenty of warnings about the piping hot plates (maybe too many warnings), but some admit that it's difficult to remember not to do something as instinctive as move the plate to a comfortable position after it's placed on the table. There are also the understandable concerns of what would happen if a waiter accidentally spilled a tray of these scalding plates on unsuspecting diners. Kenneth B. considers the signature service technique to be nothing more than "a load of nonsense" and some diners have even given up eating at Ruth's Chris because of the "headache" of dealing with scorching plates.

Even the staff know the food at Ruth's Chris is overpriced

Few restaurants are keen to admit that their plates are overpriced, and many are unfairly accused of this offense by disgruntled patrons who are merely angry for other reasons (hey, any price is too much if you hate the food!), but this particular problem seems to run a little deeper at Ruth's Chris. Guest complaints are one thing, but even the staff seems in on the secret that Ruth's Chris dishes aren't worth the apparently inflated amounts the steakhouse is commanding.

In an employer review, one former server partially attributes the "toxic, stressful" work environment to abuse from diners who already know the menu is overpriced and therefore "feel cheated right off the get-go." The disgruntled staffer was hardly the only former server to admit the chain is overpriced. Unhappy diners will make this complaint just about anywhere, eventually, but when the staff agree, there may be more truth than rumor to the allegation, and it appears to occasionally affect the entire experience at Ruth's Chris for both diners and employees.

You can wear jeans

There's a commonly held belief that fine dining steak houses come with a strict business casual dress code, and that would certainly include a top name like Ruth's Chris. While the restaurant would surely love to perpetuate the notion that diners should add to the ambiance by dressing up (hey, it would certainly help justify the steep prices), the truth appears to remain elusive to many diners, who continue fretting about outfit choices with questions like whether jeans are allowed at Ruth's Chris (and the varied replies from former diners are less than conclusive).

In this specific case, the truth to the secret isn't that difficult to uncover. True, Ruth's Chris never specifically approves jeans in any published dress code; in fact, they don't technically publish a dress code at all, but they do offer some insight into their clothing preferences in the restaurant guidelines section of their official FAQs. Here, you'll discover that jeans are never mentioned at all, so feel free to wear them on your next visit. It's fine. You can even get away with wearing a hat if you pull up a seat at the bar (but not in the dining room).

Ruth's Chris raised menu prices during the pandemic

Ruth's Chris Steak House may have returned the $20 million that Americans felt they unfairly drained from the federal Paycheck Protection Program at the onset of the pandemic, but the national brand did pull off a subtler money grab that went largely unnoticed. As reported by Nation's Restaurant News, Ruth's Chris raised menu prices in May 2021, while the pandemic was far from a thing of the past, in order to relieve its own financial pressures resulting from decreased capacity and increased supply costs.

How did the restaurant get away with further hiking its famously high prices at a time when most diners were suffering? According to the same report, it did what it always does. Ruth's Chris only raised menu prices by 2.5%, hoping to go unnoticed with a "surgical" strategy the brand's own reps describe as routine for the brand. Apparently, the steak house employs this technique regularly, especially when it notices competitors raising prices during its quarterly analysis of menus. Yes, that means that they troll the market every three months to see if it's safe to raise prices again without drawing negative attention or, really, any attention at all.

Ruth's Chris is not a boutique brand

Most are aware that Ruth's Chris Steak House, despite billing itself as fine dining, is a chain restaurant. Still, some customers may be under the misconception that there aren't that many of them, which somehow gives the brand more of a boutique prestige. This may have been true once, as any growing business starts with a single location and ideally grows steadily, but today there are more Ruth's Chris Steak Houses than any other fine-dining steak house in the country, and even the world (via Wilmington Biz).

On one hand, Ruth's Chris' ubiquity is a sign of great success, and that should certainly impart some confidence in the brand. On the other hand, having more locations than any other fine-dining steak house in the world can also give potential patrons the sense that it's the Starbucks of steak — appreciated by many, but maybe a little too corporate and definitely not a boutique experience. It's hard to say whether the brand actively seeks to maintain this aura of exclusivity, but you couldn't blame them for not actively dispelling it if that's the case.

Rules are more lax at corporate locations

Rules are rules, right? Not necessarily. While Ruth's Chris Steak House does publish some national guidelines for its guests, not all locations enforce them equally, and it may be due to a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, metaphorically. Part of the brand's success in spreading across the country and around the world comes from its franchise program, and that means that there are many different owners of Ruth's Chris Steak Houses worldwide.

According to a Reddit rant from the executive chef at one Ruth's Chris location, policy enforcement changed considerably when the location went from private ownership to corporate control, and it only encourages bad behavior. It appears the corporate arm of Ruth's Chris adopts the philosophy that the customer is always right, so just about any persistent patron, whether justified or not, is likely to come out on top of any disagreement. It's a clear case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease at corporate locations, but please don't use this secret knowledge for evil. No one likes an entitled brat at dinner, or anywhere else.