TGI Fridays, the iconic American restaurant chain known for its casual dining and bar atmosphere, shocked patrons and employees alike this week with the abrupt closure of 36 underperforming locations across the country.
Sudden Shutdowns Leave Employees Stunned
The closures occurred without any advance warning, leaving TGI Fridays workers stunned when they showed up for their normal shifts only to find restaurants shuttered.
“I showed up for my lunch shift and the doors were locked. There was a sign saying the location was permanently closed. No heads up at all,” said Maria Diaz, an assistant manager at the TGI Fridays in Fresno, CA that closed after 45 years.
Similar scenes played out at over three dozen TGI Friday outposts this week. In Massachusetts, the sudden shutdown of 6 locations left close to 500 employees out of work just before the holidays.
“We’re all pretty angry. I’ve been working here for 15 years and to be treated like this is awful,” said Tom Walsh, a bartender at the Fridays near Boston that closed abruptly this week.
Financial Troubles Blamed
TGI Fridays corporate leadership cited ongoing financial issues and a need to optimize operations going forward as the catalyst for the closures.
“It was an incredibly difficult decision to close these locations, but ultimately it was a necessary step to set the brand up for future success,” said Ray Blanchette, TGI Fridays CEO. “The 36 restaurants simply were not meeting performance standards.”
While the company did not release specific financial details, analysts speculate TGI Fridays has faced slumping sales and thinning margins in recent years. Customer affinity for the chain has waned while labor and ingredient costs have climbed.
“Casual dining chains like TGI Fridays rely on drawing customers in for a night out. But competition has heated up while diners feel increased pressure on their wallets from inflation and other macroeconomic factors,” said industry expert Rick Mason.
Table showing a sample of closed TGI Fridays locations
What’s Next for the Chain?
While 36 eateries shut down abruptly this week, the closures represent only around 10% of TGI Fridays roughly 380 locations. The company emphasized these moves position Fridays well moving forward.
As part of an overall company revitalization strategy, TGI Fridays sold 23 company-owned restaurants spread across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to longtime franchise owner Tri-State TGI Fridays. Blanchette hinted additional franchising deals could be coming.
Industry watchers do expect more closures ahead though if performance does not improve. TGI Fridays faces stiff competition from trendier gastropubs and fast-casual chains. The brand likely needs an image makeover to woo younger diners. Menu innovation and emphasis on quality ingredients may also be critical to winning back customers.
The coming year promises to bring substantial changes for the iconic Fridays brand as executives scramble to turn around declining sales trends and reimagine locations for the 2020s dining landscape. Supporters hope TGI Fridays can recapture the buzz and energy that once made it destination dining for generations of Americans.
Fridays Fixtures No More
For regular patrons and employees at the now shuttered locations though, TGI Fridays will now only live on in memories of first dates, post-work happy hours, and community celebrations anchored for decades by the neon-dotted bar and grill.
Lifelong regular Brenda Clarke reminisced fondly about her local TGI Fridays in Orlando, FL during an interview this week. “I celebrated my 21st birthday there, met my husband over margaritas a few years later, and it’s where we’d always take the kids for their report card treats. I’m sad to see it go.”
While Clarke and other Fridays devotees certainly feel a sense of loss, fortunately Fridays flair and famous potato skins remain on offer – at least for now – at locations across America.
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