ANN ARBOR, Mich. — By 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, prospective patrons were already lined up along Fourth Avenue, outside of one of the many upscale restaurants in downtown Ann Arbor.
Some had reservations at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, booked in the hours after the Michigan football team’s 78-0 romp of Rutgers on Saturday in Piscataway, N.J. Others hoped for an opening in the reservation book, which had been filled since the start of the week.
The lucky ones, however, took advantage of the “Score Big” promotion that Ruth’s Chris is offering during football season: for every point Michigan wins by on a Saturday, patrons can get that percent off their bill from Sunday through the next Thursday, up to 50 percent.
The original promotion, per Mediaite.com, gave patrons a discount equal to Michigan’s margin of victory — it would have given this week’s patrons a 78-percent discount on their steaks — but was changed due to the overwhelming rush of customers.
The change in the promotion didn’t stop customers who attempted to buy steaks that ranged from $47 for two 4-oz. filet medallions and shrimp to $115 for a 40-oz. tomahawk ribeye (more on that pricey cut in a bit).
Ann Arbor residents Cazzie Palacios Brown and Gerardo Palacios tried to make reservations via phone for their wedding anniversary, but to no avail.
“The line was busy each time we called, and nobody picked up the phone,” said Palacios Brown, a graduate student at Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
But Wednesday afternoon, she contacted her husband and told him to meet her at Ruth’s Chris — and to bring her a change of nice clothes for their anniversary dinner.
“I was in a T-shirt and shorts,” Palacios Brown said, laughing. “And I made him go back and get a sweater. I’m still in sneakers!”
On an unusually warm, 78-degree afternoon in Ann Arbor, diners looking for a bargain trickled in at the start of business hours at Ruth’s Chris, then reached a certain pitch around 6 p.m., the traditional dinner hour.
Business buzzed inside the upscale steakhouse, an establishment tucked discretely between a public parking garage and across the street from a federal government office building and a bus stop. And only a mile north of Michigan Stadium, where second-year coach Jim Harbaugh has revitalized the Michigan football program.
Michigan football has helped drive business this week. That business has been brisk. The 50-percent off promotion, posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page, runs through Thursday.
By Wednesday, the half-off promotion had drawn more than 400 reservations, according to Ruth’s Chris employees. Ruth’s Chris did not respond to Landof10.com for comment regarding the change in the discount, but general manager Buzz Goebel roamed the dining room and bar area of the restaurant Wednesday evening as business picked up.
Inside the bar area — which did not honor the 50-percent-off promotion, but offered happy-hour drink and dining specials from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. — flat-screen televisions flickered with talk shows on ESPN and Fox Sports 1.
Goebel stood at the bar and engaged with patrons as bartenders shook, stirred and poured drinks. As Goebel surveyed the crowd that grew inside the restaurant, a familiar face suddenly flickered on the flat-screen above the bar: his own.
One particular customer took advantage of Ruth’s Chris half-off steak special, and digitally boasted about it.
Ruth's Chris & Buzz Goebel!Sarah, me & Ann Arbor thank U for being such good sports! Plus the Steaks are A++, Mercy! pic.twitter.com/7CiB8ZMuXy
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) October 12, 2016
Jim Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, grinned over a $115 tomahawk ribeye and a goblet of whole milk with Goebel, in a picture that Harbaugh posted Tuesday night on Twitter.
It zoomed across the Internet.
Wednesday afternoon, it was the topic of conversation on ESPN’s “Around The Horn,” which was muted inside the bar area at Ruth’s Chris.
“He tweeted it,” Goebel told the people in the bar, “and it blew up!”
Very meta – Jim Harbaugh's tweet on the flat screens behind the bar at Ruth's Chris in Ann Arbor pic.twitter.com/tVem39HlwK
— Rachel Lenzi (@RLenziCMG) October 12, 2016
Palacios Brown and her husband didn’t get the 50-percent discount on their meals, lobster tail, steak and brussels sprouts. However, because they made it in by 5 p.m., they got a happy-hour discount, which took $76 off their total bill of more than $240.
A quartet from Michigan State, of all places, benefited from Michigan’s beatdown of Rutgers. Ryan Adelman, Jenny Foote, James Murray and Leslie Grimm enjoyed steak and shrimp on a Wednesday evening that went from warm and windy to cool and rainy. They can thank Harbaugh, Jabrill Peppers and the Wolverines for that perk.
The morning after Michigan’s win at Rutgers, Adelman’s father made reservations at Ruth’s Chris, and insisted he and his friends take advantage. The Spartans found the loophole, Adelman explained, but so did the restaurant, as the promotion was only applicable to food purchases.
“They were a little sneaky about it,” Adelman said. “But we came from East Lansing, and none of us have been here before.”
With the 20-percent gratuity, the four students said their bill for four people still came to under $200.
“And you can’t complain too much about that,” Adelman said, as he and his friends held red-and-black Ruth’s Chris to-go bags.