Friday's to offer menu of reduced-portion, lower-priced items

CARROLLTON Texas T.G.I. Friday's 582-unit domestic operation on Friday will unveil a 10-item menu with reduced portion sizes and reduced prices for both lunch and dinner.

"It's a separate page in the menu," said Richard Snead, president and chief executive of Friday's parent Carlson Restaurants Worldwide. "We've reduced portion sizes about 30 percent, and we've reduced prices about a third."

The "Right Portion, Right Price" menu features items priced at $6.99 to $8.99 vs. regular-sized items at $10 to $14. "The sweet spot in this is about $8 or $8.50," Snead said. "We are responding to what we think is a fundamental change in the consumer."

Snead said he expects per person check averages to take a hit, but he hopes the endeavor will increase guest counts. "Average check will probably go down," he said, "but I hope I'm responding to a need the customer has."

"It's kind of scary," Snead said. "There are other people who have made reductions at lunch. This is a first bold step for all day, and we are working in menu R&D to add some new items to it." Friday's has been working on the menu for six months. In tests, Snead said the chain has found that it gives some customers the permission to split a dessert or other item. "We think some of that will happen," he said.

"This is really customer-driven," Snead said. "There is a sales slump in the industry, but I think it's because the consumer is searching for more in casual dining. This is answering the consumers' call for choice."

Snead said surveys have found 51 percent of consumers, and 63 percent of female consumers, say portion sizes are too big. "The consumer also goes out and says they are not interested in buying more than they can eat and putting it in a to-go bag, putting it in my refrigerator and then three days later throwing it out," Snead added.

Snead emphasized that customers want personalization as well as customization. The menu offers three categories: four versions of current menu items (Jack Daniels chicken alfredo; bruschetta chicken Parmesan; Cajun shrimp and chicken pasta; and ribs with onion straws); three items in a "Better for You" segment with nutritional metrics listed with fewer than 10 grams of fat and fewer than 500 calories (dragon-fire chicken; Asian-glazed chicken; and Key West shrimp); and three items in a "Lighter, Fresher, Cleaner" offering (cedar salmon on field greens; cedar-seared salmon with pasta; and bistro sirloin salad).

"We wanted to make sure the customers into the bigger flavors and more indulgent items weren't asking, 'What about me?'" Snead said. "We haven't taken anything off the regular menu."

Operationally, Snead said the pre-portioned proteins and other items will make the additional menu fairly easy to accommodate.

National television advertising support for the new "Right Portion, Right Price" menu will begin Wednesday, March 7, Snead said. The campaign was created by the Deutsch LA agency, which features animation.

"I have to tell you, I'm a little nervous," Snead said. "I think we are responding to a change in the consumer. We recognize you are making choices in your life where you don't all these big portions. I think we are able to bring smaller prices and smaller portions into the marketplace."