Posts Tagged friday’s founder



I have the honor of attending Friday’s UK annual conference being held at Wembley Stadium, the theme ‘Update and Celebrate’. Karen Forrester, Senior Vice President & CEO, Friday’s UK, is the best natural leader I have met in my long business career. When she holds one of these events it is truly inspiring. I am presenting her with surprise award, first and only of it’s kind. I am also working on getting an interview the London Times reporter who prematurely reported my demise in a restaurant review back in 1990. Karen has asked me to be the Head Judge at their Bar Champs competition. I am delighted to participate and have already put out the word that “I can be bought!” 

The origins of the many worldwide bartender competitions, including the Bartender Olympics, come as a result of a marketing challenge Friday’s faced in the early 80’s. (Note: This event gained enough fame that the Olympic authorities took note and the name had to be changed……personally I think they should just added it as an event!!!)  As I mention in the book the market place is like a meandering road. One must stay alert and follow it or land in the ditch. In the early 80’s we and the industry at large were faced with declining bar sales. The crusade, which I supported, against drunk drivers and a increasingly health conscious consumer, were the primary causes for the decline.

Most of my competitors responded, as they do today, with discounts, two for one’s, give aways and lavish happy hours. Our approach was to educate our patrons to the better experiences in beverage alcohol. We became the largest seller of Hennessy XO, a high end cognac. We were introducing the latest boutique wines from around the world, especially wines from California . One of our biggest promotions, fun and educational for many, was our entrance into the race to be first to the United States with Beaujolais Nouveau. This is a fun worldwide event. The first year I flew the Beaujolais Nouveau back on the Concord and gave a press party in New York City with Tony Randall as our spokesperson. My last year we flew a FedEx DC-10 full of the wine to Memphis for early distribution. After I left Friday’s, the new management, in order to reduce costs, tried using California beaujolais. It was a non-event??????? By departing from the true event  the promotion died.

We also introduced a whole line of non-alcoholic drinks called flings, mmmmmmm-good. The amazing thing we introduced as part of our marketing plan was entertainment at the bar in the form of ‘Flair’! I call it amazing because of the worldwide phenomenon Flair has created. Tom Cruise was trained by a former Friday’s bartender for the movie ‘Cocktail’. So after all these years it seems fitting that I be one of the judges at Karen’s Bar Champs competition and if I can pick up a little money on the side………………………….so!

Oh, by the way, WE INCREASED BEVERAGE SALES, no coupons, discounting, advertising or give aways. Just pursuing our standard of EXCELLENCE!

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I get asked the question quite often, what were the roles you and Alan Stillman played in the historical development of Friday’s?  Alan was the creative genius that created Friday’s. He came up with the name, trade dress and clearly tapped into  the hottest market of the century. Being a New Yorker and creative, his development stayed in New York and cleverly involved the other days of the week. In  69′ or 70′ he was approached by the Memphis Overton Square developers seeking to have an anchor for their development a New York style bar and  sidewalk cafe. A deal was done and they opened in 1971. Luckily for the future of the concept they were first class people and improved on the original design. Seeing small southern towns  as his opportunity Alan signed in rapid succession, Nashville, Jackson, Little Rock and Shreveport.  Support systems and operating manuals were minimal. The name, trade dress and market opportunity carried the day.

I viewed the opportunity as more universal and put together an agreement for 8 major cities and founded, what would become, todays T.G.I. Friday’s Inc. I brought business systems, controls, best practices and  maybe the first computer systems to the restaurant  industry from my 10 years of experience at Boise Cascade. Seeing a different future, I upgraded everything, a new prototype (the now famous raised square bar), doubled the restaurant and seating capacity, used first class artifacts, stained glass and Herbert Hughes as designer.  At one point Alan told me I was going to too much trouble, “just put up the red and white awning, hang the ferns and tiffany lamps and be done with it”. We focused on product improvement; hired Vic Smith for the bar and Joe Snouffer for the kitchen both of whom would go on to be legends in the company’s history. Believing in our future success,even before we opened, while at the Little Rock opening I suggested to Alan he merge with me. He politely laughed off the offer.  He would return six months later and we would merge.  Alan becoming a minor partner in my company. You see, we had opened with double the sales and triple the profits of any previous Friday’s. All the trouble had paid off!

In spite of these great beginnings we soon were on track to fail. Volumes were falling, as much as 50%, following our store openings like dominos in a row. What Friday’s was to become was the result of our reaction to this crisis. My development of the now famous ‘Theories and Philosophies’ was in response to this near failure. Within six months of implementing these ‘T&P’ we recovered and began exceeding original volumes, growing these volumes for the next decade. This story is what my book is all about!

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