TGI Fridays Puts Its (Potato) Skin In The Game

Facing a barrage of shots from competitors, TGI Fridays this morning is launching a summer-long promotion that offers “a continuous supply” of a chosen appetizer for $10 per person.

"You could say Fridays invented the modern bar appetizer with the introduction of our famous loaded potato skins 40 years ago," says TGI Fridays USA president and COO Ricky Richardson in a release on RestaurantNews.com. 

Instead of ingesting upwards of 1,430 calories available in a single serving of those Loaded Potato Skins, patrons can indulge in as much Garlic & Basil Bruschetta (350 cals. on the Taste and Share” menu), Mozzarella Sticks (1,100 cals.), Boneless Buffalo Wings (730 - 1,190 cals., depending on sauce), Tuscan Spinach Dip (1,100 cals.), Crispy Green Bean Fries (900 cals) or Pan-Seared Pot Stickers (590 cals.) as they want through Aug. 24. As for sodium intake, let’s just say they’ll probably be more than set for the day with most of the choices.

Although “sharing is discouraged, that rule will not be enforced by servers,” CMO Brian Gies tells USA Today’s Bruce Horovitz. 

“At the end of the day, our servers aren't policemen,” says Gies. “We're not going to slap someone's hand if they reach over and share someone else's mozzarella sticks.” Do you see a wink-wink, there?

Chris Muller, a hospitality professor at Boston University, is skeptical of the tactic. “Never ever discount a signature branded item,” he tells Horovitz, who adds, “instead of attracting new business, he says, that typically rewards the frequent guest who already is willing to pay full price, but will gladly take the bargain instead.”

COO Richardson naturally sees it differently.

“‘Endless Appetizers for $10’ is our way of reminding guests how Fridays delivers on our promise of great food, great service, great value and great fun,” he says. “It's another example of how Fridays is giving our customers a better time out at every opportunity when they visit our restaurants.”

It’s also an aggressive defensive move, on the heels of its “hitting the road to promote its hip new ‘handcrafted’ menu in a food truck,” as Eater.com’s Khushbu Shah reported in May.

The promotion is “intended to counter aggressive discounts at its rivals and fend off competition from cheaper restaurants,” writes Maureen Morrison in Advertising Age

“The move comes as casual dining chains like Fridays, Chili's and Applebee's are waging price wars for customers they might otherwise lose to fast-casual chains without table service, such as Chipotle, that offer faster service and lower prices,” Morrison continues. “Chili's and Applebee's, for instance, have long been offering a $20 deal that includes an appetizer and two entrees. Chili's has also been offering a $6 lunch combo deal.”

You’d think there might be a natural fit with Tim Howard, the keeper whose defensive prowess during the U.S. team’s feisty World Cup performance garnered wide attention. He is signed through 2018 with Everton of the English — excuse me — the Barclay’s Premier League

Another Ad Age piece, by Max Willens, tells us that Howard’s record-setting 16 saves in the U.S. squad’s quarterfinal loss to Belgium last week “opened a narrow window of opportunity for Mr. Howard to cash in on a flood of endorsement opportunities.”

His agent, Dan Segal, points out that he is no rookie making the pitch, having appeared in spots for Nike, McDonald's, Allstate, Gatorade and Mastercard. “We're gonna have to be judicious about the opportunities coming his way,” Segal says.

Matt Dzamba, director of sports marketing for the Zambezi agency, told ABC News Radio last week that “Howard's blocking moves could easily land him endorsement deals with defense or security companies, or deodorant, sunblock or shaving companies like Gillette.”

But he’s 35 years old, plays in England and is not a high-profile forward who routinely basks in the glory of scoring goals. "The market will dictate whether he's used in advertising a year from now or if he's a cult hero in the Michael Phelps pocket," Dzamba said.

Howard was not the only “athlete” getting heavy coverage on ESPN last week.

Consumers who intended to take Fridays up on the challenge of all-they-can-eat might want to examine the videotape of Joey Chestnut, the reigning repeat champion of the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island for some tips on how to overcome the gag reflex en route to scarfing down 61 hot dogs — and buns — in 10 minutes.

Or not.

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