Friendly’s started with 25 new items, but it knew that would be too much for a couple of restaurants to test. So the chain divided the products into groups of 12 and 13 and launched them separately in 10 restaurants, one labeled red menu, and the other, blue menu. Out of that, Friendly’s found its 12 best choices.
As the menu was developed, the company—like most full-service chains—was having difficulties with recruiting and retaining labor. Because of high turnover, De Angelis and his team knew paper or verbal training would be lost in translation, so Friendly’s hired an agency to create downloadable videos that are about two to three minutes. Leadership can track how many workers visit the website and watch the videos.
Friendly’s also created hubs where managers and cooks learn recipes and take back knowledge to their individual restaurants.
During the innovation process, the company was concerned with rising commodity prices, as well. When matters began to escalate in July, De Angelis says Friendly’s found itself facing a fork in the road—go through endless amounts of analysis or just initiate menu changes knowing prices would settle at some point. The chain chose the latter, and is hoping to soon reap the benefits.
“It just couldn't wait,” De Angelis says. “We decided against paralysis by analysis. Just get it done. And also we did not revolutionize the menu. We didn't bring items that are very costly. So everything is pretty much marching along the same cost, plus our inflations and all the upticks in commodity prices.”
The innovation isn’t stopping here either. Although De Angelis couldn’t reveal everything, he hints Friendly’s will soon launch a game-changing ice cream menu that “goes light years beyond sundaes.”
The menu is one of many strategies geared toward the brand's re-imagination. The chain hired a marketing agency and will launch new TV commercials in May. Friendly's is also aggressively remodeling stores and switching to in-restaurant musical choices that cater to different age groups.
In February, the company opened Friendly’s Cafe, a fast-casual spinoff that allows guests to order directly at the counter, with a QR code at the table, or through in-store pickup. The 2,700-square-foot store, based in Westfield Massachusetts, has seating for 45 customers and four parking spots dedicated to curbside pickup. The concept features many of the new menu items being inserted at full-service outlets across the country.
Additionally, Friendly’s launched a new rewards program and tested co-branded stores in Connecticut with Smoothie Factory.
Each of the levers is meant to appeal to newer, younger customers, but maintain core guests that have enjoyed the brand for years.
“It is a holistic approach,” De Angelis says. “The menu was not an island. We were very conscientious of the fact that we needed more things to go with the menu. Everything that we are putting in place or into play this year will go in favor of creating an environment that will be appreciated by people who will consider Friendly’s for the dining experience.”