Current flavor trends and T.G.I. Friday’s brand heritage are reflected in a new line of cocktails for the casual-dining chain, according to Matthew Durbin, vice president of beverage and bar for Carlson Restaurants, parent company to Friday’s.
Carrollton, Texas-based T.G.I. Friday’s debuted the cocktails last week at its 555 U.S.-based units. The chain has more than 900 locations globally. Durbin discussed drink trends and the menu rollout with Nation’s Restaurant News on Tuesday.
“The spicy Margarita is white-hot right now,” he said. “Smashes are super-hot, and the trend of better versus bigger cocktails has been going on for several years.”
Friday’s own spicy Margarita is in the form of the Tiki Torch, which combines tequila with muddled pineapple, triple sec, lime and chipotle pineapple syrup. It is all shaken, poured and strained “loosely,” so chunks of pineapple drop into the drink, over ice in a glass rimmed with kosher salt, sugar and blackening seasoning. The price varies depending on location, but averages around $8.50.
Durbin said sweet-and-spicy and sweet-and-salty flavor combinations are popular these days, and the Tiki Torch has all three of those flavors.
“It’s one of the chef-inspired cocktails that taps into some of the ingredients in the kitchen,” he added. The sharing of kitchen and bar ingredients is itself another cocktail trend.
T.G.I. Friday’s new Fresh Watermelon Mojito reflects the importance of seasonality, Durbin said. The cocktail includes mint and watermelon lightly muddled and shaken with lime-infused rum, agave nectar and limejuice. It is then poured into a Collins glass, topped with soda and garnished with two watermelon cubes and a mint sprig. The cocktail is priced around $8.25.
Friday’s founder Alan Stillman has long claimed that the chain’s first location, which opened on New York’s Upper East Side in 1965, was the world’s first singles bar. Durbin said the chain also lays claim to inventing, or at least popularizing, the Long Island Iced Tea, which is the chain’s top-selling cocktail. This summer, the Long Island Iced Tea is being updated with a seasonal super fruit in the form of the Blackberry Long Island Tea, which combines premium gin, rum, vodka, triple sec and black raspberry liqueur, along with blackberries and house-made sour mix, all shaken, poured and topped with lemon lime soda for around $8.
The fourth drink on the new menu is the Strawberry Rum Smash, made with rum, muddled strawberries, mint, lemon juice and agave nectar, garnished with lemon, mint and strawberry, priced around $9.
Durbin said all of those cocktails fit trends and flavors in the marketplace and use the chain’s existing cocktail platforms. “They’re some really simple drinks with great flavors and premium ingredients,” he said.
“We have the best bartenders in the business,” added Durbin, who won the chain’s annual bartending competition in 1994, although he’d had no bartending experience before joining the company.
He said all T.G.I. Friday’s bartenders go through a three-and-a-half week program that includes on-the-job education, online courses and assessments, discussions and paper materials that instruct the bartenders on how to make more than 150 drinks. Friday’s bartenders also must show proficiency in cocktail-making technique such as free pouring, muddling, stirring, straining, layering and blending.