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When US restaurant chain TGI Friday’s came to the UK in 1986, it was famous for its distinctively American atmosphere. But by the mid-2000s, the brand had lost its way and when Whitbread sold the operating rights in 2007 to a consortium, including the brand’s US owner Carlson and investment bank ABN Amro, a reassessment of the entire restaurant experience followed.
Commercial director Darrell Wade, who started as marketing director when the brand transferred ownership, says: “The brand was tired, it was a bit old, people did not have pride in what they were trying to do.”
TGI Friday’s responded by pouring time, effort and investment into the development of its staff. Its strategy was to rejuvenate the dining experience and “to go back to what made us famous originally”, Wade says. The brand worked with consultancy SMG to look at four measures on top of general satisfaction – the most important being ’overall fun experience’.
The restaurant also started a training programme called Earn Your Stripes, ensuring all staff reach a minimum standard. It added a scheme called Plus 1, which encourages a more outlandish approach to service, such as specialist cocktail making, servers carrying multiple dishes or doing magic tricks. Wade says the brand looks for personality rather than skills when hiring new staff.
TGI Friday’s saw satisfaction rise from 35% to 58% between 2006 and 2010 and the number of guests citing an overall fun atmosphere increased from 36% to 52%. Wade claims that sales growth for the business is tracking at 7.5% above the market, following similar results a year ago. In the coming year, the restaurant is adapting its customer research model in response to demand, with ’pace of experience’ becoming the lead measure.
Wade also points out that the menu has been refreshed. “It is our 25th year, so we have taken what we are famous for – burgers, ribs, steaks and pizzas – and made them better,” he says.