The history of Ruth’s Chris Steak House stretches back nearly 100 years. The progenitor of the modern chain was established in 1927 in New Orleans by a man named Chris Matulich, for whom the chain is—in part—known today. An upscale but approachable restaurant, Ruth’s Chris sits somewhere between a casual dining chain, like an Outback Steakhouse, and a less approachable spot like The Palm. It’s a favorite for people who want a great meal they can enjoy sans suit jacket that won’t leave their wallet smarting—too much anyway.
Today, there are more than 140 Ruth’s Chris Steak House locations worldwide, and the chain generates nearly a half billion dollars in annual revenue—though the COVID-19 pandemic did put a serious hit on the chain in 2020. If you’re headed out to dine at this uber-popular steak chain, there are some secrets you should know before you go. Plus, don’t miss 8 Secrets Steakhouses Don’t Want You to Know.
The original Chris Steak House, opened in 1927 as noted, was largely a failure of a business. According to Funding Universe, its founder, Chris Matulich, sold the restaurant off several times only to buy it back for less each time the new owners failed again. He maintained semi-regular ownership of the steak house in this way for nearly 40 years.
After buying Chris Steak House in 1965, Ruth Fertel operated the restaurant at its original location for a dozen years before a fire forced her to close it down. She relocated operations to a larger property nearby but, due to an agreement in the purchase contract she had signed, Fertel could not call the restaurant Chris Steak House at any location but the original. So she slyly added her own name to the front of the title and got right back to work.
According to Fortune Magazine, Ruth Fertel, who passed away in 2002 at the age of 75, “always hated the name” of her chain of steakhouses. She thought it was awkward and clunky but said “we’ve always managed to work around it,” and indeed she and the many others involved with the highly successful chain did just that.
Why would a steak house that prides itself on the quality of its steaks intentionally undercook a piece of meat? It’s because of those 500ºF plates the steaks are served on. According to an employee who dished on Reddit, the staff knows the meat will keep cooking on the hot plate, so they stop it from cooking a bit before it’s done and then quickly plate the steak.
Adding a dollop of butter on top of a warm steak can add flavor (and fat) for sure, but the butter placed atop a Ruth’s Chris steak is more about sizzle than taste. Ruth Fertel herself once said: “You hear that sizzle, and you think: ‘I wonder if that’s my steak?'” It’s not, though—it’s the butter sizzling on the hot plate. Chili’s uses this audible sizzle too to make customers crave their fajitas.
Per NBC News, in the early days of the pandemic, Ruth’s Chris applied for government relief and received $20 million from a federal government program meant to help small businesses. This was an international chain of upscale steakhouses getting money intended for one-off mom-and-pop type shops. Understandably, there was a public outcry, and under pressure, the chain returned the money.
According to Nation’s Restaurant News, Ruth’s Chris Steak House raised its menu prices last year, but it did so in such a way it hoped customers would not notice. Calling it a “surgical” increase in pricing, the chain elevated prices by just 2.5%, not enough to elevate the eyebrows of most diners. But for a chain dealing with sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars, that’s a change that likely generated tens of millions of dollars.