Cafe Society

Top five reasons T.G.I. Friday's isn't cool anymore

T.G.I. Friday's would be so much cooler if the chain would just embrace and enjoy the fact that it's a punchline.

Being a joke isn't necessarily a bad thing. Charlie Sheen, Tom Tancredo and the entire cast of Jersey Shore get it and make it work for them, and are probably chuckling their way to the bank every single day. Okay, maybe Tancredo hasn't figured it out yet, but he really should soon.

Friday's is now serving craft beers. This announcement came just last week (although it really should have come sometime in the mid-'90s), and the chain is now heavily plugging a lineup of such cutting-edge beers as Magic Hat #9 (brewery start date: 1994), New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale (1991), Goose Island Honkers Ale (1988), Abita Amber (1986), Alaskan IPA (1986), Boulevard Wheat (1988) and Uinta Cutthroat Ale (1993).

Most of these beers are fantastic; I was getting plowed as a soybean field on Boulevard Wheat (with a slice of lemon) back in 1998. It's not the beers' fault that since 1965, Friday's has degenerated from an innovative Manhattan singles-bar concept to a cookie-cutter, suburban panacea with crappy lighting and overpriced pre-made bar food today. But degenerate it has: Here are our top five reasons why T.G.I. Friday's isn't cool anymore:

5. Flair went away. Office Space is a damn funny movie, and so are Mean Girls and Waiting, but being lampooned via film isn't the worst thing in the world, so instead of sucking the fun out of the place and gobbing everything with Jack Daniel's sauce (the stuff comes in a plastic bag and is the opposite of tasty), why didn't Friday's just run with a little self-deprecating humor and let people know it can take a joke instead of turning into one? 4. Are you a f*@#king bar or a restaurant? T.G.I. Friday's has a pronounced identity crisis that manifests itself in dining rooms filled with families and kids serenely munching on chicken fingers and ranch dressing a few feet away from bars filled with raucous, drunken twenty-somethings downing rainbow-hued shots and watching bartenders toss bottles in the air. For a restaurant/bar purist, it's an interesting model to study in order to determine how corporate chain restaurants found a way to simultaneously cash in on the bar crowd and families -- but it's still a bit disconcerting to shuffle your kiddos to the can and have them witness, en route, exactly what they have to look forward to in college.

3. Innovation without motivation. Friday's has obviously been taking innovation lessons from fast-food chains, because recycling the same ingredients into a few new dishes to tout on its still-catalogue-sized menu may be convenient and cost-effective, but in no way screams "NEW AND EXCITING!" And slathering everything in kung pao sauce isn't exactly cutting-edge. A little-known fact about Friday's is that it opened a couple of fast-food spinoff restaurants in the mid- to late '80s called "Fast Friday's" that didn't take off, so the company pulled the plug on the concept in 1988. Or did it?

2. Bagging on the customers. T.G.I. Friday's uses so much food squeezed out of plastic bags that it's hard to tell its kitchens apart from an experimental nutrition lab at NASA. Instead of trying to take over India, maybe the company should stimulate our home economy by hiring actual cooks to actually cook actual food -- or just take it in the opposite direction and bring the boiled bags to each table with straws, so that patrons can suck their meals rather than discover that the meals are just sucking.

1. Single-issues dining campaigns. According to Ricky Richardson, executive vice president and chief concept officer for T.G. I. Friday's (the company is innovative with executive titles, anyway), "Whether our guests are enjoying an entree that has been marinated in a craft beer, like our Black Angus Brew House Steak, or looking to kick back with a cold beer, they can do so at Friday's -- just as they would at a backyard barbecue or summer picnic."

The Friday's attempt to tap into diners' sentimentality by adding a glop of potato salad and slopping beer in and on its regurgitated menu items is a lot like Tom Tancredo's stance on immigration: Both are well-advertised, under-thought and over-financed, and neither concept hits the mark it's aiming for. If people really want to have a backyard barbecue or summer picnic experience, they will just have a barbecue or a picnic -- and inviting Tancredo and feeding him a few brews would be much cheaper entertainment than cramming into a crowded restaurant with ESPN and '90s dance-party hits competing for hearing loss.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz