Hospitality franchisor snags Aussie launch for new look TGI Fridays

By Sarah Stowe | 07 May 2018 View comments

TGI Fridays has a rich history since trading began in new York in 1965. Founded by perfume salesman Alan Stillman, the world-famous chain started life as a bar where women could relax and feel comfortable ordering a drink.

The first outlet was sited opposite the PanAm building in New York with an almost guaranteed clientele and introduced lighter cocktails such as Long Island Tea and the concept of a happy hour.

Flash forward to today and the brand has a global presence, with an annual turnover of US$4.7 billion across 61 countries.

Now a brand new concept is being launched and thanks to The Sporting Globe’s franchisor James Sinclair, TGI Fridays’ fresh faced smaller footprint outlet is unveiled in Australia.

CEO of the Signature Group, which acquired TGI Fridays Asia Pacific in August 2017, Sinclair successfully convinced TGI Fridays’ global parent company that Australia was the right market to build the first of the brand’s new concept bar and restaurant.

“In dealing with America, I wanted to elevate the quality of TGIs in Australia,” Sinclair says. The challenge is to maintain the fun culture associated with the brand, but to lift the standards of food and fitout.

“They were nervous about creating a premium Fridays but Australia is a discerning food market and this is a global brand we can premiumise. There’s a far more contemporary New York feel true to our origins, with a strong focus on the bar, and a new cocktail and food menu.”

The food has been created by the corporate chef Kevin Miller in New York, who has designed the menu to be a modern take on classic favourite dishes. Buffalo wings for instance are slow cooked in garlic and chilli.

All the meals are made from scratch in an open kitchen on site, with more than a nod to the all-important healh consciousness in today’s consumer, and a preference for high quality produce.

One significant change is the reduction of menu items from an overwhelming 78 to a more manageable 38. There will be more share plates and on-trend cocktails, and TGIs is providing unique flavours and creating its own sauces.

The contemporary decor will be retro fitted across the existing 11 outlets in Australia and expansion into new areas is focused on dining precincts such as Stockland Green Hills, the venue for the launch restaurant.

Franchisor working with an overseas franchisor

The TGI brand is owned by private equity, and dealing with the US franchisor has been “suprisingly refreshing” Sinclair tells Inside Franchise Business.

He met the leadership team on a visit to head office in Dallas and was impressed.

“They are really down to earth and switched on, and we are in alignment on opportunities for the brand,” he says.

A non-prescriptive approach has contributed to the brand’s success. “You’ve got to have flexibility in your model. What works here is very different to what works in the US, Mexico or China,” he says.

Experience in franchising is a bonus in this relationship, he suggests. “As a franchisor we understand their view points. It only helps us. We see both parties’ perspectives.”

It means the Australian franchisor understands the importance of protecting the global brand, and TGIs ambition for growth.

The chain is franchised in each country to restaurant or national business operators, but not sub-franchised.

Sinclair gained his initial experience working in hospitality in New York aged 24, then came back and bought a Geelong pub that became The Sporting Globe, today a franchised chain of eight casual bars which attracts the male sports fan.

In contrast TGIs is focused on food and family and appealing to a predominantly female customer base.

There are synergies for both brands, Sinclair points out, not least because the two chains appeal to quite different demographics but can benefit from improved purchasing power.

“Our franchisees are excited about the acquisition. It means fantastic synergies because overnight we’ve doubled in size.

“If you look at the broader market, food and beverage dining is expanding nationally. I think there are a lot of players in the QSR/fast casual space but when I think of full service and the casual dining model, there is absolutely a market for this. When I look in Australia I don’t see that many chains doing that well.”

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