Merchant Innovation

TGI Fridays, Fast Casual Food To Cater To Millennial Expectations

Every generation has to eat, but every generation doesn’t have to eat the same way. Whole Foods and other retailers capitalizing on the at-home health food craze were able to get out in front of millennial eating trends — or, at least, start riding at the crest of the wave. Fast casual restaurants weren’t so prescient, though, and now, cracks are appearing in one of the Baby Boomer generation’s most enduring retail trends.

Look no further than TGI Fridays’ experimental store redesign for a new location in Corpus Christi, Texas, that opened on Monday (March 7). It’s far from the first brand to attempt to express its pro-millennial stance through open floor plans and extended hours, but newly minted CEO Robert Palleschi told Nation’s Restaurant News that the Corpus Christi concept store will also be one where TGI Fridays gets to test out a whole new culture. First, instead of table areas designed to give private spaces to small parties, seating inside the 10,000-square-foot restaurant will be laid out with primacy given to what Palleschi called “hangout spaces” on either side of the restaurant — cafe-style couch and armchair areas meant for conversation and coffee-drinking more so than eating.

“We’ve laid out this particular restaurant to amplify the bar space and create areas for mid-afternoon gatherings,” Ricky Richardson, president of TGI Fridays USA, told NRN. “We brought in great Wi-Fi, and we now have a deli case with grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, parfaits, cookies and brownies … Customers can also just hang out if they want to.”

Hang out they’ll have to. The pilot store will be operating on extended hours, opening four hours earlier at 7 a.m. and closing one hour later at 2 a.m. In the morning, TGI Fridays hopes young millennials will come in to work at reservable tables. After hours, there will be music, pub trivia and open-mic nights. Even the menu is getting a youthful facelift from TGI Fridays’ normal bar-and-grille fare. Palleschi explained that the Corpus Christi location is outfitted with “a full coffee program for fresh-ground espressos, cappuccinos and lattes,” and a “Hangover Brunch” on Saturdays and Sundays will ostensibly offer the kind of social dining experience millennials have taken a large bite out of as they’ve come into their generational spending power.

While TGI Fridays may be embracing a more millennial-friendly style of dining, it’s unclear whether diners at the Corpus Christi store will operate under the brand’s paradigm of sitting down, ordering food and then settling a bill. Many of the fastest-rising fast casual restaurants of the last few years, such as Chipotle and Shake Shack, instead have their customers order and pay before deciding whether to sit down and eat — a small but noticeable change in the oh-so-millennial power it gives the consumer to decide whether to eat in or take it on the road.

So, is it more surprising that TGI Fridays may have missed out on this important detail or that a brand as seemingly old-fashioned as Cracker Barrel didn’t?

That’s the look of things from the down-home country chain’s new venture into the millennial dining market, The Tennessean reported in February. Much like TGI Fridays’ Corpus Christi experiment, Cracker Barrel is opening up its first “Holler & Dash” grab-and-go location in Homewood, Alabama. The new concept eschews loaded platters and gravy-dripping meals for more mobile biscuit sandwiches, parfaits and beignets. Holler & Dash also appears to turn its back on the Cracker Barrel creed of appearing only on the sides of highways or outside outlet strip malls. Its Homewood location sits in a walkable part of the city, itself a suburb of Birmingham, the state’s largest city.

“With its biscuit-inspired menu that pays tribute to the South in an innovative and modern way, Holler & Dash was created to extend our reach into urban [areas] and attract new audiences,” Cracker Barrel CEO Sandy Cochran said on a conference call last week, via Business Insider.

Both TGI Fridays and Cracker Barrel seem to have created concoctions containing just the right amounts of everything millennials love. Sometimes, that can be just the thing to turn those young diners away.

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