The restaurant first opened its doors in 1965 in New York thanks to Alan Stillman, a perfume salesman. While “Thank God Its Fridays” might be an ideology for people to express their relief after their weekday endeavors, Stillman’s vision was a respite for men and women to experience cocktail party experience in a public setting and thus emerged America’s popular chain, serving the young and single. The bar that brought the co-ed cocktail party scene outside of the homes in New York, now boasts of over 900 restaurants in about 60 countries, not including the U.S. and has been transforming itself with the times to stay relevant. Without further ado, here are the top 10 untold truths about TGI Fridays.
10. A conduit for singles to mingle
Friday’s opened its doors to the public in New York in 1965. Stillman envisioned the place in hopes of meeting air stewardesses, models, and secretaries residing in his neighborhood on the East Side of Manhattan. Initially it was promoted as a singles bar as during that period, it was hard for singles to meet in a public setting. Stillman’s story proves that all innovative ideas are not born behind secretive closed doors and drinking copious amounts of caffeine. He salvaged the opportunity of his affinity of meeting the single ladies in his vicinity and transferred that prospect towards a cocktail bar on the Upper East Side, which thrived on the notion of serving singles in a casual setting, away from bars and private events and that restricted men and women to hang out in a public place.
With the creation of the birth control pill around the time of Friday’s opening, Stillman considers the timing impeccable. “My timing was exquisite, because I opened T.G.I. Friday’s the exact year the pill was invented. I happened to hit the sexual revolution on the head, and the result was that, without really intending it, I became the founder of the first singles bar.”
You could say that the establishment of TGI Fridays, changed the American restaurant chain business forever and we have seen many imitating the ambience of the renowned chain restaurant juggernaut. Since its humble beginnings, TGI Fridays has further grown in popularity and has continued to be a place for men and women to meet and mingle and indulge in casual dinner and drinks.
9. ‘Cocktail’ and flairtending
According to Stillman, Tom Cruise’s character Brian Flanagan from the 1988 movie Cocktail was inspired from him. In one of his interviews he mentions how Cruise’s Brian Flanagan “was imitating what we had done, Friday’s at the time. He was trained with flipping bottles and drinks.” With the popularity of Stillman at the time and Fridays’s signature flairtedning skills, his claims do seem credible. Also in 2010 the chain had requested the Olympic Committee to recognize bartending as a sport. This shows that Fridays take their talents quite seriously. Now only if you could spot Tom Cruise serving a drink on your weekend off from work at a TGI Fridays.
8. Fridays grabs Guinness Record
In 2011, TGI Fridays cemented its name in the Guinness Record as “the most people cocktail flairing for two minutes.” The bartenders attended the open air event in the Covent Garden Piazza, London and showcased their skills to a song Hippy Hippy Shake, which was ironically prominent in the flick Cocktail. Someone make flairtending an official Olympic sport already.
7. ‘Flanagan’ Mixologist and the AI conncetion
Coined Flanagan after Tom Cruise’s character in the film Cocktail, TGI Fridays introduced an innovative system which would help promote a different kind of alcoholic beverage. With 300 different taste profiles, mixed with unexpected ingredients, the AI helps create drinks based on a customer’s mood and flavour preferences. The chain’s innovative motives don’t just stop with Flanagan. In 2017, TGI Fridays used “predictive churn” technology to foresee when people would leave the app. Those who would be getting off would be selected and encouraged through push notifications with offers based on their past purchases.
With over 500 restaurants across the U.S., TGI Fridays plans to use AI to gather data and implement it to customer service. “Ideally, you go into your local bar, and the bartender knows you,” said James Washington, product manager of digital platforms at TGI Fridays. “We want to be able to serve you at the same level.”
So the next time you want to get served a drink or order online, you will be covered, thanks to AI.
6. The Corpus Christi prototype design
In 2016 TGI Fridays discarded its dark wood and red striped interiors for a Scandinavian style aesthetic at one of the branches in Corpus Christi, Texas. With coffee and juice stations filling the prototype design space, and multiple bars and hangouts similar to coffee shops, the restaurant chain has made the move to cater to the millennials who have different tastes and preferences compared to the older generation. “Since the inception of Fridays (you know, when it was a singles bar), our guests have expected us to be a place where they can have fun and meet up with new and old friends. But that looks differently today,” one of Friday’s spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. The hours have also been extended from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. A revamped menu consisting of “Hangover Brunch” on Saturdays and Sundays comprises of Bloody Marys, smoothies, and chicken and waffles to name a few. “Guests come to us as a destination where they can have fun and socialize — and as their needs change, we need to change, too,” the spokesperson said. The place is also Wi-Fi equipped for those who use laptops and other electronics.
Like they say, out with the old, in with the new.
5. Charity with a ‘Heart’
Whether it is the customer base or the employees, Fridays is all about the people connected to them one way or another. With its non-profit organization Have a Heart, Fridays provides grants to employees who have suffered tragedy, have been inflicted with a financial crunch or have suffered the brunt of a natural disaster. The internal charity is funded by employees and they have an option to contribute through payroll deductions or participate or indulge in year round fundraisers for the organization. Fridays acts as a one big happy family that cares for the cogs propelling the machinery to work efficiently and their team member handbook clearly mentions in the end, “now that you’re part of our Fridays family, you’re officially responsible for delivering that Friday’s experience and embracing the Love of all things Friday-including the fun, excitement, and real, pure potential that Fridays holds.”
Recently the CEO Aslam Khan said, “Whatever our race, gender, sexual preference, or national origin, we are all born with certain essential liberties. By simple virtue of our humanity, we have the right to enjoy a cold one with buddies at a lively TGI Fridays bar, or take in the restaurant’s fun, festive, and slightly quirky atmosphere while seated in a cozy booth on date night.”
Now that’s endorsing a positive attitude and embracing diversity and having a ‘heart’ about it. Ain’t that cute.
4. Life of a Bartender
Before the family restaurant ideology was introduced to TGI Fridays, the franchisee used to be a singles bar that happened to serve food. The bartender was at the top of the ecosystem. According to Mike Werner, one of Fridays’ master bar trainers in UK, one had to undergo four hundred tricks and pass a test. It didn’t just end there. To top it off, Twenty-five of those drinks you had to achieve blindfolded. This had to be performed within a certain time limit and all you could lean on was your muscle memory to accomplish the feat. To add to that they couldn’t be racist and were expected to have the ability to make jokes, while entertaining and mingling with the guests. “That master bartender had to know how to get customers involved,” commented Werner. Also long before the AI and mixology consultants of the 21st century, trainees had to know the science behind the spirits and brand backgrounds. No wonder Fridays grabbed the Guinness World record for flairing, especially when trainees have to undergo bartending finesse that requires immaculate grace and skill.
And I thought being a bartender was all fun and games, especially when alcohol is involved. Boy I was wrong.
3. Office Space and the destruction of Flair
Back in 1999, Mike Judge’s comedy Office Space came out. At the time, it did not leave much of an impact on the audiences, but over the years it became more and more popular. There is a scene in the film in which Jennifer Aniston’s character Joanna is asked by her boss to wear more than the 15 pieces of flair she is wearing and he points out to another server Brian, whose suspenders are adorned with 37 pieces of flair. Joanna repeatedly expresses disgust about the flair in the flick. This scene was based on real life buttons servers had to wear at the time in restaurants and Fridays was one of them. Because people referred to the hilarious scene in restaurants at the time, TGI Fridays ditched the idea. In a way, Judge should be thanked for his subtle contribution to the servers’ fashion aesthetics at Fridays. In many ways popular culture does have an influence or is inspired from our life, which inadvertently can make even small changes as that of the case of the flair. In his interview with Deadline, he says, “One of my Ads (Assistant Director) asked once at the restaurant why their flair was missing and they said they removed it because of that movie Office Space. So, maybe I made the world a better place.” Just like how the film Titanic in 1997 raised the curiosity of people to know about the ill-fated maiden voyage of the ship, thus bringing the story of the ocean liner to a new generation, Office Space gives the viewer a satirical glimpse of the everyday work life of frustrated individuals, bettering the reality it was inspired from in that process.
Never underestimate the power of pop culture.
2. ‘Invention’ of Potato Skins
Before the appeal of potato skins, the peels were usually tossed away as it was not considered worthy of restaurant menus. Apart from using the inside of the potato for different recipes, restaurants came up with the idea of throwing the peels into the deep-fryer and decorating them with bacon, cheese, and sour cream. Like the mystery behind the Mona Lisa’s smile, the exact origins of this appetizer remain mystery as well as many chains have come out in the 70’s crediting themselves as the inventor of the potato skins and including TGI Fridays. According to the chain, they came up with it in 1974. Matt Durbin, the chain’s Vice President says, “As legend has it, one of our cooks was making our mashed potatoes in the back of the house, and decided to drop the potato skin in the fryer. When it came out, he threw our proprietary fry seasoning on it, added cheddar and smoked bacon, and the rest is, as they say, history.” Despite the lack of knowledge on where potato skins originated, Fridays sure did make it popular among the masses. In fact, it still hasn’t lost its demand while other food items keep shifting or introduced in the menus of Fridays. It sits there untouched by time.
In 2016, the company served three million pounds of potato skins in 900 locations in 60 countries, ranging from Argentina to Kyrgyzstan. That sure is a lot of potato skins. Banking on the phenomena, Fridays has also introduced frozen potato skins that are available in almost all grocery stores in the US. It is fascinating how this clever move of using food scrap and giving it its own identity has helped escalate its acceptance by the people only so much over the years to the point that many “copycat” versions have also emerged in order to capitalize on TGI Fridays famous appetizer .
The next time you visit Fridays, you surely would not want to miss out on those loaded potato skins complete with melted cheese and crispy bacon. Now that’s repurposed scrap food that tastes good as much as it sounds good.
1. No cash? No problem
By now we know that TGI Fridays doesn’t shy away from technology, be it the Flanagan mixologist or the AI induced customer service. As part of innovation through rejuvenation and upgrades on technological and décor fronts, the company as of 2012 has introduced a Mobile app which is considered as a breakthrough. With an enhanced functionality and a recently overhauled interface, the app lets you pay at the table. This is the next step to the casual dining experience which the franchisee has promoted since its inception. Through the app you can browse the menu, track tabs, and pay bills. Also tips for your server can be accomplished through it. Its that simple and convenient.
Since the 1960s TGI Fridays has moulded and pruned itself, keeping up with the times. In an era of technological innovation, where information is accessible with but the press of your fingertips, the company has managed to stay relevant. It has been accommodating different generations of people visiting its various chains across the globe. The constant endeavour to set itself apart from other competition is maybe why even after 52 years, Fridays is still the talk of the town and even places like Moscow and India have got a taste of the American restaurant and bar. It sure has come a long way.
So next time you visit, how are you mixing your drinks or paying your bills or are you getting those potato skins to compliment your next order on the menu?