Battling weak sales in the casual-dining business, TGI Fridays is introducing an all-you-can-eat special in time for bikini season: endless appetizers for $10. Customers can get an unlimited order of potato skins, garlic & basil bruschetta, mozzarella sticks, boneless Buffalo wings, Tuscan spinach dip, crispy green bean fries, or pan-seared pot stickers through Aug. 24.
“They’ll find that younger millennials may go, have bottomless potato skins, and get three or four orders,” which means a lot of time at a table, says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at research firm Technomic. To make it work, the restaurants will “have to try to get drinking to be part of the occasion.” In other words, the hope is that the promotion will draw visitors who order high-margin beverages as well.
The average check at TGI Fridays is about $16, according to Technomic, so customers are unlikely to each order an unlimited starter for $10, plus an entree and drinks on top of that.
Grazing—including small-plate sharing and snacking instead of traditional meals—is a top trend for 2014, according to the National Restaurant Association (PDF). As appetizers, small plates, and sides grow in popularity, TGI Fridays has recently tried other small-plate promotions to boost sales, including a Taste & Share menu with lower-priced items for splitting, introduced in April 2013. Still, the chain has closed some locations, and its U.S. sales dropped 4.7 percent in 2013, according to Technomic data.
As for whether the appetizers are truly endless: “Servers will not cut off patrons,” a TGI Fridays representative wrote in an e-mail. “Each patron can come in and enjoy their Endless Apps during the duration of their stay that day.”
In the heyday of casual dining, turning over tables would have been more urgent. But sales have been slow. Today, “Other than 6 to 8 p.m., you’ll probably be OK,” says Tristano.