Before TGI Fridays became known for its endless apps and frozen drinks, the casual-dining chain started out as America’s first singles’ bar in New York City. Former TGI Fridays CMO and current incoming CEO Brandon Coleman III wants to honor that social scene heritage as he takes TGI Fridays into “a transformative next phase.” In the coming months and years, Coleman and his team will be expanding the casual-dining brand into new markets, menu items, and partnerships—like a new focus on mocktails in collaboration with zero-proof spirit companies.
“The strength and the weakness of TGI Fridays is everybody knows us,” Coleman said. “The strength of that is all the brand awareness that we have, but the weakness is everybody thinks they know what to expect from TGI Fridays. So, for us to really make waves, we have to go further than typical brands. At the same time, we have to you know, maintain our consistent brand promise about delivering a great bar experience and menu variety in a social setting.”
The question Coleman faces as TGI Fridays enters a new era of brand polishing and innovation is, “how do you honor your heritage without getting stuck in the past?” He noted that the world — and typical nightlife scene — has changed quite a bit since the first TGI Fridays opened more than a half-century ago in New York City and it’s important to update the idea of a social gathering-focused restaurant and bar brand for 2023.
Moving forward, Fridays is focusing on modernizing its food and drinks menu by leaning into the zeitgeist — like offering sushi through its partnership with C3 and adding zero-proof alcohol options to the menu — and embracing new ideas.
Under the previous leadership of Ray Blanchette, TGI Fridays began partnering with C3 (Creating Culinary Communities) and introducing Krispy Rice’s sushi options to its restaurants. Moving forward, Coleman wants to expand that partnership and even introduce new menu items from other C3 brands. In general, brand partnerships are a strategy that Coleman will be aggressively pursuing to add trendier names and food/drink options to the menu. One example is partnering with Spiritless — a female-owned, nonalcoholic spirits company that will help Fridays lean into the low-proof or mocktail trend by offering alcohol-free or low-alcohol versions of their popular beverages, like margaritas.
Coleman said that on the heels of the success of their grilled and sauced program, Fridays will be introducing more customizable entrees, and shareable small plates and appetizers. Finally, one of the biggest aspects of the Fridays transformation will be to make the chain back into more of a nightlife brand by introducing more entertainment programs like games and live music.
“We’re really focused on bringing the social gathering back to TGI Fridays,” Coleman said. “Maybe it’s not about being a singles’ bar anymore, but we’re now focused on bringing all types of people together. We’re leaning into being a welcoming environment where people can gather and more than just your typical kind of casual-dining offering.”
Besides change on the menu and in stores, Fridays is also thinking about where and how to expand next. After launching the Fridays on the Fly small-format store, and opening a renovated TGI Fridays in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport this summer, the company will be pivoting to a more asset-light portfolio with new stores in smaller locations — many in transportation hubs — that appeal to people looking for something familiar as they travel.
By embracing both its heritage and multiple types of brand growth, TGI Fridays is hoping to appeal to younger generations and stand out from its competitors, like Chili’s and Applebee’s. Just because all brands are familiar for similar family-dining occasions, does not mean they should be interchangeable.
“We outpace those brands because we have this fun, let-loose environment that really speaks to people,” Coleman said. “It is vital that we honor where we came from, but we don’t want to get lost along the way. We want to maintain who we are in a more modern, differentiated light that’s relevant today and tomorrow.”