TGI Fridays has 58 years’ worth of history, and that’s a blessing and a curse, says newly named CEO Brandon Coleman.
The plus is that most customers recognize the name. The downside is that guests—sometimes for the worse—have developed a certain expectation for the brand. Coleman believes the chain’s biggest opportunity is to change people’s minds when they walk through the door.
“Depending on which point in time you last visited a Fridays, you may have a different expectation,” Coleman says. “And I think setting that expectation for the guests and making sure that we create a welcoming, fun environment—that’s what we’re all about.”
The 40-year-old restaurant executive was officially named CEO on Tuesday after serving as U.S. president and CMO since October 2022. He succeeded Ray Blanchette, who helmed the brand for almost half a decade before resigning in May. In the interim, Rohit Manocha, the co-founder and chairman of majority owner TriArtisan Capital Partners, acted as temporary CEO.
Coleman’s main objective as the new chief executive is to create relevance that keeps the brand top of mind and drives guests back to the product. He believes TGI Fridays can accomplish this without alienating any core customers, especially since most of its audience is between 20 and 40 years old. There are three specific strategies: partnerships and clear, purposeful communication to consumers; a menu that meets guests’ needs; and more excitement with its bar.
Regarding that last point, Coleman says TGI Fridays will become one of the first brands to introduce nonalcoholic spirits behind the bar. The chain is launching partnerships with entities like Athletic Brewing Co. and Spiritless, both of which specialize in the nonalcoholic space. But at the same time, TGI Fridays is innovating around spirits, such as its relationship with Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey.
READ MORE: TGI Fridays Names Brandon Coleman III CEO
In terms of food, Coleman was responsible for the chain’s biggest menu change since the 1990s with its Grilled & Sauced platform back in June. The brand also has an agreement in place with ghost concept vendor C3. The company supplies TGI Fridays restaurants with virtual sushi brand Krispy Rice.
“You may think, ‘Wow, TGI Fridays, sushi, does that fit?’ I think 100 percent. Absolutely,” Coleman says. “If you look at the No. 1 seller of sushi in the United States, it’s Kroger. Sushi is ubiquitous and I think it fits the flavor profiles and offers something different and fresh that we can certainly embrace on our menu and really make a lot out of it.”
TGI Fridays runs and franchises more than 650 locations globally across 52 nations. It appears to be in a better financial place than it was pre-pandemic. In November 2019, Allegro, a special purpose acquisition company, agreed to a $380 merger with TGI Fridays that would’ve made the chain public. The deal fell apart in spring 2020 due to the uncertainty of the COVID pandemic. Prior to the merger, TGI Fridays had worked on several turnaround initiatives, including the hiring of Blanchette, acquiring franchises, replacing directors of operations and general managers, emphasizing the bar, providing differentiated value, growing off-premises business, and rewarding loyalty customers and employees.
In 2014, Carlson Restaurants sold TGI Fridays to TriArtisan and Sentinel Partners for more than $800 million. It has been privately held since merging with Carlson 30 years ago.
Last year, the company generated $1.6 billion in total sales and experienced an 8 percent growth in U.S. comparable sales compared to 2019. In September 2022, TGI Fridays announced its largest-ever franchise agreement. This deal aims to establish 75 additional franchised eateries in South and Southeast Asia over the coming decade, contributing an additional $500 million in revenue.
Although Coleman couldn’t share too much detail, he says TGI Fridays is working on building a “capital light growth model that puts us where travelers are.” One example of what this could look like is the restaurant in the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, which is on pace to earn $14 million this year. That makes it the highest-volume unit of any U.S. airport restaurant.
“So you say, ‘That’s interesting!’ Coleman says. “Why is it that when people are traveling, why would TGI Fridays drop to such a high AUV, higher than anybody else in the competitive set? And it’s because of that latent brand affinity. … We believe very strongly that there’s a growth vehicle for Fridays through this.”
Before joining TGI Fridays, Coleman held the position of senior vice president and CMO at Dave & Buster’s. He also assumed multiple leadership capacities at Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group and served as the CMO for Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Additionally, he functioned as the CEO and a management consultant at Brava Partners. In 2013, Ad Age recognized him as one of their 40 Under 40 honorees.
Coleman is one of many career marketers who have ascended to CEO or brand president in recent years. Other examples include Chris Tomasso at First Watch, Rita Patel at Arby’s, John Williams at True Food Kitchen, and Chris Tussing at Buddy’s Pizza.
To him, marketers are well-suited for the CEO position because of their experience with listening to guests. Anticipating what a customer wants and understanding how to drive momentum toward that is vital in today’s restaurant climate, Coleman explains.
He calls it a “share war.” There’s not a lot of incremental occasion growth to go around, leaving brands to play tug of war with their competitive set.
“I think if you start with the guest and not in the sense of what am I going to sell the guest and what am I going to tell the guest but what kind of value am I going to deliver to the guest? What kind of quality? What are they seeking that we can deliver?” Coleman says. “That’ll make them have a great experience. Those are the companies that are winning.”