At the 2011 VIBE Conference, the VIBE Visionary Award was presented to T.G.I. Friday’s, and for good reason. With more than 900 restaurants in over 60 countries, the Friday’s concept has evolved since its inception in Manhattan in 1965. Its strategy, even then, was to be a gathering place for young, affluent types to have fun and enjoy some drinks – a place where every day felt like a Friday. Throughout the years, this credo hasn’t changed; but it has evolved, keeping the Friday's concept relevant and vibrant. At the center of it all is a robust bar and beverage program.
George Barton receives the VIBE Visionary Award from Sharyn Iler of the VIBE Conference Team.
What makes Friday standout is its ability to take risks and still be innovative. T.G.I. Friday's was the first casual dining concept to market to single women with its Ladies’ Nights promotions and introduced the first ever Happy Hour, featuring signature Loaded Potato Skins and specialty ice cream drinks. Things at Friday’s haven’t slowed down since those early days. With each passing decade, the Friday’s team has incorporated smart promotions, always staying ahead of trends. From adding alcohol-free cocktails to the menu and showcasing flair bartending to developing its Master Bartender program, which requires three to six months of training, Friday’s management has always known the heart of its operation is the bar.
George Barton, Vice President, Bar and Beverage Concept Team for T.G.I. Friday’s, was at the VIBE Conference and accepted the VIBE Visionary on behalf of the venerable chain. He talked to VIBE about how Friday’s has delivered an energetic food and drink program for the past 46 years and what's next.
VIBE: Friday's has always been on top of the trends (and ahead of many!). What are some new beverage trends and concepts on the horizon is Friday's looking to implement in the future?
George Barton: While we would not want to share our total beverage strategy, we certainly are keen on innovation around all aspects of beverage (beer, wine, liquor and specialty-non alcohol) and in all day parts. Creating Infectious Energy is the core of how we satisfy the needs of our guests and our bartenders are a critical part of that goal.
VIBE: Friday’s has a history of being innovative, especially when it comes to the bar; how are you enhancing your drink menus, happy hours, your promotions, your flair bartenders, etc. going forward?
George Barton: We plan to remain focused on our strength and work diligently with our people who will separate us from the competition. Our bartenders are the best in the world, and we depend heavily on them to execute at a level well above others.
VIBE: T.G.I Friday’s began as a bar, then morphed into a family-friendly restaurants and is now showcasing its bar and beverage program yet again. What benefits has Friday’s enjoyed by focusing on the bar and bartenders? How has this focus helped Friday’s weather the recession?
George Barton: We have always had a strong beverage heritage and have been the first to market with many beverage innovations.
VIBE: What’s the overall atmosphere at Friday’s – décor, service style, music, etc.? And how has it changed over the years?
George Barton: What I can say is that we are still the place to be for that liberation from the everyday - our brand's reason for being.
VIBE: What does the Master Bartender program entail? How do Friday’s bartenders differ from other bartenders?
George Barton: Our bartenders know they work for one of the best casual dining restaurant and bar concepts in the world. They are proud to represent us and love the fact that they can be themselves, mixing a great recipe of professionalism with fun and energy. There is a tremendous pride factor around being a Friday’s bartender that stays with you for life [and is] part of your personal DNA.
VIBE: What’s your personal favorite drink currently on the Friday’s bar menu?
George Barton: The Berri Acai Sour involving ABSOLUT Berri Acai.
VIBE: Your thoughts on T.G.I Friday’s being named the 2011 VIBE Visionary Award recipient?
George Barton: We are extremely honored that our beverage and bar heritage is being called out in such a manner, and is being recognized for what we have meant to the beverage industry over the past 45 years along with how we continue to impact and make a difference was extremely important and rewarding to Friday’s.