2019 Cheers BevX Award Winners
Best Single-Concept Restaurant Beverage Program: TGI Fridays
The first TGI Fridays may have opened in 1965, but the restaurant chain continues to innovate and excel as an industry leader in the beverage space. “We don’t go easy on ourselves, and we’re our own biggest critics,” says Anna Krone, director of bar and beverage innovation for Fridays.
Krone joined the Dallas-based casual-restaurant company this past September. She describes the learning curve as immense but rewarding. “We’re constantly pushing the envelope to get better,” she notes.
As part of that push, Fridays unveiled a number of new cocktails in 2018 that sparked consumer interest and promoted social-sharable moments.
For instance, the Magic Lemon Drop (made with vodka, triple sec and blue butterfly-pea-flower extract) changes color when the sidecar of house-made agave sour is added.
The Mai Tai and Frozen Lava Flow cocktails come with flaming garnishes. “We brought tabletop theatrics to the guest experience,” Krone explains.
The Buzz Button Margarita includes a Szechuan daisy garnish that tingles the tongue and accentuates flavors when consumed. “We wanted to give a new fun twist on a tried-and-true classic,” Krone says. “We’re trying to bring conversation pieces to the table.”
Today’s guests want value, quality products and healthier options. That’s why Fridays has committed to a clean-label back bar and works with producers on upgrading ingredients.
Sips with star power
Fridays also generated beverage buzz last year by working with several celebrities, including Grammy-nominated musician French Montana, media icon DJ Khaled and sports personality Kirk Herbstreit.
“We work with a group of incredible suppliers, and often these suppliers partner with celebrities,” Krone explains. “Sometimes the suppliers will come to us about these celebrity partnerships and say how they think these are great fits with our brand as well.”
The celebrity partnerships last year resulted in the Ciroc French Smash (Cîroc French Vanilla vodka, Bordeaux cherry, peach, house-made sour) and Ciroc Khaled-O-Scope Lemonade (Ciroc vodka, fresh strawberry, house-made sour and butterfly pea extract) cocktails.
A promotion with Herbstreit encouraged guests to watch college football at Fridays while drinking Coors Light beer. “These partnerships can help us reach a broader audience,” Krone says.
Adding some flair
The bar is the heart and soul of Fridays; the company remains focused on making it the epicenter of the entire guest experience. This includes constant staff training. Bartenders, for instance, perform a pour test before every shift to make sure they’re making quality cocktails with consistency.
“We want the bartenders to feel like they’re set up for success,” Krone says.
The brand takes staff training to another level with its annual Fridays World Bartending Championship. This skills competition welcomes entrants from the company’s 900-plus restaurants across the globe.
Participants can earn rewards and recognition on all levels: from a single restaurant to regional to the annual naming of the worldwide top-10 finalists. Bartenders are rated on skills such as pouring accuracy, serving speed and recipe recognition.
“It really is something that defines our commitment to our people and our bar program,” Krone says. “It’s validation first and foremost. Every single bartender goes through the process of re-evaluating their skills to be a great Fridays bartender.”
Fridays emphasizes and maintains safe service practices through its SURF (Serving Up Responsible Fun) employee certification program. The brand also includes “Drink Responsibly, Drive Responsibly” messaging on its menu and POS materials.
“Our job is to ensure that guests have a great time, and the most important part of that is making sure that they get home safely,” Krone says. “That’s just as important as focusing on making that guest their favorite cocktail.”