In the 1990s, TGI Fridays launched its Whiskey Glaze sauce, then the biggest menu addition in its history. Since then, the chain has had a few other menu changes, adding an entree here, a limited-time offering there. But this June, its menu strategy underwent a huge shift with the launch of Grilled & Sauced.
“People want bold flavors, ethnic flavors and they really want to explore new tastes, new spaces and they like … spicy flavors,” said TGI Fridays U.S. President Brandon Coleman. “They like a lot of rich flavor and depth. That’s what we set out to do.”
The company’s new menu strategy was developed shortly after Coleman joined TGI Fridays in October. Management made some assessments about the types of items consumers want in the current environment; what trends and flavor profiles are popular in customization; and what drives frequency. The team also determined what the chain is good at, which is flame broiling and its current quality protein.
“We need to modernize our offering in order to attract younger audiences and to marry our offering with where the market is,” Coleman said. “You see a lot of new concepts popping up, and we have to stay competitive.”
Several other casual dining chains, including IHOP, Denny’s and Chili’s, also bolstered their menus this year. Denny’s, for example, invested more than $25 million to upgrade and improve its kitchen equipment, develop new food offerings and increase efficiency. New items at Denny’s include Mac N’ Brisket Sizzlin’ Skillet and Oven-Baked lasagna. Chili’s focused on its core four menu categories: Burgers, margaritas, Chicken Crispers and fajitas. Earlier this year, Red Robin hired a VP of culinary and beverage innovation to help improve its menu offerings.
TGI Fridays’ Grilled & Sauced menu, unveiled on June 13, includes six proteins, such as salmon and chicken breasts, and nine sauces, such as Spike Orange Glaze, al pastor and Korean Red Chili, and a selection of two sides from at least nine options.
Customer feedback has been positive on the Grilled & Sauced menu so far, Coleman said. People like the variety and the ability to make these dishes their own. Previously they only had a choice between Whiskey Glaze or plain, for sauces on proteins.
“What we’ve seen so far is we’re actually more competitive from a value standpoint,” Coleman said. “We reduced our pricing on a couple of key items, specifically the chicken and New York Strip.”
Whereas another restaurant may just offer an eight ounce chicken breast, TGI Fridays is offering two five ounce chicken breasts giving customers 10 ounces total, he said.
Customers are increasing their checks by adding premium sides, such as garlic butter, green beans with bacon, onion rings and loaded mashed potatoes, which cost $1 to $1.50 more than standard sides. Pricing varies by location and item.
From an operator's standpoint, the menu update was easy to deploy. The sauces, toppings and sides are completed prior to when the chef grills the proteins, allowing them to put together dishes quickly, Coleman said.
TGI Friday used existing proteins within other dishes, such as a flat iron steak that was offered already on a sizzling platter covered in cheese.
The new menu allows the meat to take “center stage and really highlight[s] the quality of the meat,” Coleman said. “When you get [the steak] with a dry rub, it’s more similar to your classic steakhouse, but you can take it with the al pastor sauce and make it something completely new.”
Future menu development will evolve the chain’s core offering hopefully to create everyday value. With its Grilled & Sauced menu, TGI Fridays is looking into new proteins, such as a Tomahawk pork chop.
But the menu strategy won’t include LTOs because Coleman doesn’t see them as a fit for the company right now. There may be a time in the future to do LTOs. However, there is more room to make its menu more in the hopes of attracting more younger consumers.
“We're also going to be looking at how we create different flavors and variety on the menu that the guests can experience and experiment with at a low starting price point,” Coleman said.
What’s coming next? In the fall, TGI Fridays plans to launch another big menu change that centers around variety and customization.
“The bigger change we’re making on the next round … is going to be pretty monumental for our brand,” Coleman said.