TGI Fridays has always been about fun and socializing. After all, the casual restaurant brand started out as perhaps the first singles bar when it opened in New York 51 years ago.
The way people socialize, eat and drink has changed, though, and TGI Fridays is evolving to meet the needs of modern guests. That means embracing busy consumers’ digital connections with better WiFi, Instagram-worthy fare and a coffee-shop vibe with comfortable places for guests to sit and work or gather for fun.
Customers today—particularly the all-important Millennials—seek shared, social activities that let them connect with friends while making new acquaintances. But it’s not easy to get the younger consumers out of their houses, so Fridays has several initiatives to attract guests and keep them returning.
“We are on an ongoing innovation journey,” says Matt Durbin, vice president of concept development at Fridays. “We continue to evolve our brand for our guests,” who already recognize the chain as a place for social occasions, he notes.
Fridays in March opened a freshly redesigned location in Corpus Christi, TX, with new features such as a common area designed like a coffee shop, complete with grab-and-go food items, multi-bar areas that serve fresh juices and coffee, and a stronger Wi-Fi network. The revamped Corpus Christi unit, along with a location in Farmingville, NY, will serve as testing grounds for greater rollouts.
TGI Fridays restaurants are known for the red-and-white awning motif, red leather seats and busy, dark wood interiors. You won’t find any of that at the Corpus Christi prototype.
Instead, blond wood, modern design aesthetics and lots of natural light characterize the space. Community tables with comfortable seating for about 40 to 50 people offer plenty of space for hanging out.
“Social” is a major focus in the Fridays brand evolution: Guests can sit in the common area and work on their laptops or congregate there with a cocktail before eating, or hang around after a meal with for drinks. Large groups have also used these spaces for parties or other events, says Durbin.
Food and drink for sale in these areas also reflects coffee bars. This includes prepackaged sandwiches, salads, parfaits, cookies, brownies and an expanded coffee menu, including freshly ground options.
“Coffee is so hot right now, and coffee houses are such a great place to socialize,” Durbin says. “We wanted to tap into that trend.
Upgraded Wi-Fi is key to the concept. “Customers are constantly socializing with the people in front of them and also the people in their networks through their smartphones,” Durbin says.
“Beefing up our Wi-Fi is an opportunity to provide consumers better access to the networks and ways of socializing that they were already using,” he adds.
Digital upgrades go beyond the common area. Fridays is in the early stages of rolling out handheld tablets that servers will use to take orders. This will simplify the process, Durbin says, allowing food and drink to reach tables faster.
The reimagined Fridays restaurants offer something for customers who perhaps partied a little too hard the evening before—or just anyone who enjoys a hearty brunch with a boozy twist.
The new Hangover Brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It “fits into our social wheelhouse,” Durbin explains. This program features stylized takes on the heavier brunch fare that groggier guests typically prefer after a big night out.
For instance, Bourbon Steak & Eggs ($14.10) includes an 8-oz. flat iron steak, smoked over bourbon-infused wood plank, with eggs cooked to order, and sides.
There’s also the Bucket O’Bacon ($5), with eight slices of hickory-glazed bacon, served with chipotle maple syrup; and Bears N’ Berries Waffle ($10), with freshly sliced strawberries, fresh blueberries and mini Teddy Graham crackers, drizzled with creamy cheesecake batter.
The Hangover Stacked Burger ($12) is beer-braised sausage and onions, Asiago, Parmesan and cheddar cheeses between two fresh burgers topped with American cheese, hickory glazed bacon and an over-easy egg, with maple aioli, iceberg lettuce on a freshly baked bun.
The centerpiece of the Hangover Brunch is the Abso-Bloody-Lutely, made with Fridays’ own Bloody Mary mix, Absolut vodka, smoked salt for the rim, and garnishes of celery, bleu- cheese-stuffed olive, grape tomato and fresh lime.
The drink can come with one, two, or three meat skewers (priced at $10, $13, $15, respectively). The skewer options are buffalo wings, bacon-wrapped stuffed jalapeños, and “Jack” sliders, which comes with a small bag of fries.
This Bloody Mary cocktail, along with other hard drinks, is sold in states where alcohol is legal at brunch. The colorful drink with multiple meat skewers has found its way into many Facebook or Instagram feeds.
“It’s been an item that is very Instagram share-worthy,” Durbin says. “It gets a lot of heads turned towards it. The first thing that guests do when they get it is take a photo for their social networks.”
Although the Abso-Bloody-Lutely was not specifically designed with social media in mind, creating eye-catching products remains an emphasis at Fridays, Durbin says. That these head-turning items frequently turn up online is a bonus in the social focus of Fridays. “We want our food to be highly visual and share-worthy with friends and on social platforms, as part of the overall experience,” Durbin says.
Other Hangover Brunch cocktail include The Maxmosa, with LaMarca prosecco, freshly squeezed ruby red grapefruit juice and vanilla in a smoothie. The brown-spirits boom is reflected in the Honey Bourbon Flip: Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, organic agave, egg and ground nutmeg.
The decadent brunch cocktails notwithstanding, Fridays is also emphasizing healthier drinks. “Consumers today, Millennials especially, are looking for healthier options,” Durbin says. “This was a natural opportunity to extend our presence and credibility into freshly squeezed juices.”
The brunch menu focuses on these juices and smoothies, which sell for $4. The Paradise Punch is a puree of orange juice, pineapple juice and guava, while the Sex on the Peach smoothie includes carrot juice, peach purée, organic agave, lime juice, lemon juice and fresh basil.
“Fridays always goes back to being a great bar, so it is important for us to provide great-tasting drinks that leverage fresh ingredients,” Durbin says.