Culture /// Thoughts x

T.G.I.Friday’s is eyeing millennial money with its revamped marketing campaign, but they forgot to improve the food.

As a blossoming young professional, I’ve found myself the target demographic of commercials for the first time in my life.

In the eyes of society, I belong to an age group that apparently has money and the desire to spend it. As a result, brands like T.G.I.Friday’s that a year ago wouldn’t have given me the time of day are now fighting for my disposable income. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

Using our newfound power, millennials have voted with their dollars to slowly but steadily disenfranchise franchises across the country. As sales drop, institutions like Budweiser and Olive Garden have begun desperately courting the youth of the nation.

According to The Atlantic, an astounding 44 percent of people aged 21-27 have never even tasted a cold Budweiser. As a result, pure fear has forced corporate brands across the country to retool their advertising schemes. Now they come groveling to us as potential suitors, hoping to lure in our money with focus-group driven commercials and questionable hashtag campaigns.

They have had differing degrees of success. The marketing team at T.G.I.Friday’s however, can consider my decision to visit their restaurant a resounding triumph. Two commercials in particular swayed me toward the casual eatery.

First, I mistook an Applebee’s commercial advertising the Applebee’s reverse happy hour for a T.G.I.Friday’s commercial. Normally I wouldn’t credit T.G.I.Friday’s marketing team for my mistake, but it is common in the wild for animals to survive by imitating other stronger, more sexually attractive species. Given T.G.I.Friday’s desperation, I didn’t want to rule any strategy out. If that is their approach I wouldn’t advise it in the long run, but I will say that it worked once.

The second commercial advertised T.G.I.Friday’s “Jump Burger” promotion. The campaign cleverly markets itself as a “buy one give one” deal, a fun twist on a familiar schematic that appeals to the iconoclast in every millennial. The promotion entices the smartphone generation, stipulating that after you buy a hamburger you receive a code to send a free burger to a friend. That’s right, a code.

As Calvin Candie would say, “Gentlemen, you had my curiosity; now you have my attention.” Like a Derelicte model, the commercial tweaked some cerebral back-alley in me, making it irrationally imperative that I visit the restaurant.

In addition to the two commercials, I couldn’t shake the thought that T.G.I.Friday’s also offered an endless apps deal, but I wasn’t sure. After the reverse happy hour fiasco, my curiosity was tempered by my fear.

The thought of crediting yet another company’s promotional campaign to T.G.I.Friday’s prevented me from asking the waiter. The menu failed to mention any endless apps, although their website does testify to its existence.

Failing to advertise the app promotion proved important, as the entrée section of the laminated menu held very few appealing choices. Meanwhile, the appetizers looked amazing. Their starters section read like an appetizer hall of fame: sliders, pot stickers, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, nachos, spinach dip, flatbread—you name it, they have it. And since this is America you don’t have to choose: Friday’s Pick Three-For-All gets you any three assorted apps for $10.99.

We resisted the appetizer menu, but my inability to find an appetizing entrée forced me to order a dish that will endear me to our six-year-old readers—the Crispy Chicken Fingers ($10.79). We also ordered the Cajun Shrimp & Chicken Pasta ($12.99) and Hibachi Chicken Skewers ($9.49). T.G.I.Friday’s surprised me with higher prices than I expected, as most meals hung in the $12-22 range.

Still, the Crispy Chicken Fingers did not disappoint. As I lack even an inkling of knowledge as to what occurs in a T.G.I. Friday’s kitchen, I can only offer speculation. But, I must say that their chicken was some of the juiciest I have ever eaten.

Were I above squeezing my tender in order to see the liquid ooze out of the white meat, I would’ve had trouble believing it myself.

Luckily I am above nothing, and the saturated chicken dripped right onto the checkered tarp of the dining table. Needless to say, I was impressed.

The side of fries was salty, hot and well cooked: all I ask for in a fry. The Honey Mustard sauce, however, tasted like no combination of honey or mustard from this planet. The sweetness seemed chemical, like melted candy. It had a citric aftertaste, lacked a savory side and I slurped up every last drop.

The Hibachi Skewers underachieved most impressively, failing on three of four counts. The only partial success was the chicken itself, marinated in a garlic soy sauce and slathered with a suspect miso glaze. The pleasant corn-syrupy sweetness failed to disguise the dryness of the chicken. The half-burnt, half-raw bell peppers saddling up to the skewered chicken also attested to the grill master’s short attention span.

The rice lacked salt and flavor and the steamed broccoli pleaded to be put out of its misery. The pita bread was a little burnt and tasted like nothing much. The entrée included a salt-bath dipping sauce for applying a layer of sodium flavor, but at what cost?

The Cajun & Chicken Pasta ($12.99) was a solid option, hitting the unctuous alfredo notes it strove for but failing to register on the spice register. Outside of the pleasant warm richness of cream there was little taste to be found.

Still, combine pasta, chicken and shrimp and sometimes cream alone will do the trick. The grilled chicken guy was having a bad night it seemed, as even the decadent cream failed to disguise another appearance by dry poultry.

A cold beer seemed the perfect antidote for the raspy chicken, but be warned—two Stella Artois ran upwards of $15 and a single Bud Light was a cool $5.50. The menu didn’t have prices for its alcohol, making it impossible to tell the cost without asking.

This is a cheap move and one of my all-time most despised restaurant gimmicks. As a result I would advise avoiding alcohol completely or asking for prices beforehand, because unlike Applebee’s, there’s no reverse happy hour!

Mark Stenberg

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