This family favorite started life as a rocking icon of the mid-century singles scene.
1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY ONE OF THE FIRST COED COCKTAIL BARS.
In the 1960s, Manhattan’s Upper East Side was filled with young singles—but the only way for them to mingle was by meeting up for in-home cocktail parties. Sure there were bars, but respectable women didn’t frequent them. So in 1965, a young perfume salesman named Alan Stillman, who was “looking to meet girls,” decided to open an institution that was designed to be patronized by both men and women. He bought a bar on 63rd Street and First Avenue called the Good Tavern, renamed it T.G.I. Friday’s, and started redecorating to make it more female-friendly. “If you think that I knew what I was doing, you are dead wrong,” he told Edible Geography in 2010, but whatever it was, it worked. The first-ever (although there’s some debate about that) so-called “fern bar” was a such a success that traffic had to be rerouted around the bar on Friday nights for four hours until midnight.
2. IN CREATING THE FIRST SINGLES BAR, STILLMAN IMPACTED THE COURSE OF AMERICA’S SOCIAL HISTORY
In the December 1994 issue of American Heritage, Stillman was listed as one of "10 people who changed the way you live." The article praised the TGI founder for having “effectively begun the commercialization of sexual freedom"—an era that benefited from the near-simultaneous introduction of the birth control pill. "My timing was exquisite, because I opened T.G.I. Friday’s the exact year the pill was invented," Stillman told Edible Geography. "I happened to hit the sexual revolution on the head, and the result was that, without really intending it, I became the founder of the first singles bar."
3. AS T.G.I. FRIDAY’S SPREAD ACROSS THE COUNTRY, IT BROUGHT THE PARTY WITH IT.
Of franchising, Stillman said, “I didn’t pick it—they picked me…I have to admit that I didn’t know what the word franchise meant.” After the original location rose to fame, entrepreneurs in other cities—the second location to open was in Memphis, Tenn.—requested Stillman’s assistance in opening their own locations. And for 50 percent of the profit, he obliged. But none of them truly rivaled the original for cultural impact until T.G.I. Friday’s came to Texas. Dan Scoggin set a new company standard with the Texas location that featured multi-level dining space, a large, square-shaped central bar, and room for 400 mingling singles. Almost immediately, it was filling up nightly and became a national phenomenon. Women’s Wear Daily sent a photographer to capture the crazy fashions, Glamour called it “a meat market for more reasons than its hamburgers,” and Newsweek used an image of the bar for a 1973 cover story on the country’s burgeoning singles scene. After the Dallas location grossed over $2 million in its first year, Scoggin bought out Stillman to become CEO of the expanding Friday’s franchise.
4. IN THE '80S AND '90S, FRIDAY’S WAS ALL ABOUT FLAIR BARTENDING.
The décor at Friday’s has been known for its eccentric flair ever since the first location opened in New York City. But it was at a Marina del Rey location in 1985 that the flair spread to bartending. Management noticed that bartender John Mescall added tricks and juggles to his drink prep and decided to hold an in-store competition. He and another bartender, John J.B. Bandy, produced a how-to video and by 1991, Friday’s was hosting an annual World Bartender Championship that’s still going strong.
5. IF THAT BARTENDING FLAIR REMINDS YOU OF COCKTAIL, THAT’S BECAUSE IT SHOULD.
Friday’s founder Stillman claims that Tom Cruise’s character in the 1988 flick Cocktail is based on him—a credible claim when you consider that JB Bandy taught Cruise how to bartend with flair in preparation for the film, which was partially filmed at the original Upper East Side location.
6. FRIDAY’S EVEN TRIED TO GET “FLAIRTENDING” INTO THE OLYMPICS.
In 2010, T.G.I. Friday’s sent out a press release announcing that they had “petitioned the International Olympic Committee requesting official recognition of bartending as the next Olympic sport” and calling on customers to support the effort via an online petition. The proposed event would consist of an “eight- to 10-minute flairtending demonstration showcasing extreme skill and athleticism.” Last we checked, the IOC hasn't commented (though one Friday's location got an April Fool's Day joke out of it).
7. THE TALENTED BARTENDERS HOLD A WORLD RECORD.
Although their routines aren’t in the actual Olympics (yet), the talented bartenders of T.G.I. Friday’s hold a Guinness World Record. In 2011, more than 100 bartenders gathered in Covent Garden, London to celebrate the chain’s 25th year in the UK, and set the record for "most people cocktail flairing simultaneously and in synchrony."
8. THE CHAIN MAY HAVE TAKEN A HINT FROM OFFICE SPACE.
In 2005, T.G.I. Friday’s made a point to tone down the style of their restaurant décor and, notably, their wait staff uniforms, eliminating the striped shirts, suspenders, and buttons. At the time, Richard Snead, then-president and CEO of Carlson Restaurants Worldwide, which owns Friday’s, said it was just because "servers didn't want to wear them.” But anyone who’s seen Mike Judge’s 1999 film Office Space undoubtedly remembers Jennifer Aniston’s waitress character, who is constantly encouraged to wear more flair until she flips out and quits. Just last year, Judge told Deadline, “One of my ADs [assistant directors] asked once at the restaurant why their flair was missing and they said they removed it because of that movie Office Space. So, maybe I made the world a better place."
9. THE CHAIN 86'D ITS PUNCTUATION.
Without much ado in the form of announcements or rollout, T.G.I. Friday's redesigned its logo and materials in 2013 and dropped the periods and apostrophe from its name. It was a bold move for the nearly 50-year-old company, and though it's an eyesore for the grammatically inclined, the updated, streamlined look garnered a lot of praise.
10. THEY WENT HIGH-TECH WITH MISTLETOE DRONES LAST YEAR.
For Christmas 2014, Friday's made headlines by debuting drone-borne mistletoe to their restaurants. Couples who took the hint and went in for a kiss had a picture of their smooch broadcast on a big screen. It wasn't all hugs and kisses though: the “Mobile Mistletoe” drones had at least one public crash with the face of a Brooklyn Daily photographer.