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There’s no gray in TGI Fridays’ stance on tech

Photograph: Shutterstock

Reality Check

As the granddaddy of casual dining, 53-year-old TGI Fridays is proving there’s no correlation between a restaurant concept’s age and its openness to the latest technology. 

Chief Experience Officer Sherif Mityas revealed last week that the graybeard is treading where few chains have gone in data-mining the reams of information most are collecting today. He revealed at the FSTEC conference that the chain conducted an experiment of sorts. Using research from Fridays’ loyalty program, it built a system for profiling a typical frequent guest in considerable detail, then used the portrait to predict the customer’s perfect order and pose that choice to her.

“I’ll call her Mary,” Mityas said. “I know that Mary usually orders around 7 o’clock on a Tuesday. I can tell from Mary’s order that she’s probably married, to someone who likes ribs. I know that Mary probably has three children, based on her order. And I know Mary likes salads, without chicken.

“I fill her basket with what should be a perfect meal for her and her family,” Mityas continued. “When I presented that to families [as an option], 72% clicked ‘yes.’”

The account left the audience in silence for a beat, apparently as it digested that peek inside a customer’s head. 

Mityas acknowledged the creepiness of knowing a customer that intimately, but stressed the flipside is a level of personalized service that blows far past expectations. It’s all a matter of how the data is managed and used, he explained.

“It’s really just a matter of putting in good data hygiene,” he said, noting that about a third of the 900-unit chain is already following the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a set of stringent regulations adopted across the European Union to give consumers control over data that’s collected about them by restaurants and other businesses.

“We see this coming [beyond the current EU adoption],” said Mityas. “This is not just going to be a one-off part of the world.”

Instant guest feedback

Fridays’ openness to new technology was also demonstrated by news reports this week about the chain’s test of a new device to evaluate a guest’s experience before he or she leaves the restaurant. An unspecified number of units are reportedly trying an instant feedback device, described in the flurry of stories as resembling a smartphone, which gets delivered with the check. Patrons are asked to evaluate the specific food items they ordered, along with the service.

The notion is to head off negative comments before a disappointed guest takes to Yelp or social media. 

The willingness of the oldest concept in casual dining to embrace new capabilities like artificial intelligence earned Fridays this year’s Tech Accelerator Award for the full-service category. The honor is presented to the leading tech proponents among quick-service operators, emerging chains and table-service brands. 

This year’s other winners were Zume Pizza, for emerging chains, and Domino’s Pizza, in the quick-service category. 

All three were chosen by the editors of Restaurant Business. The staff selected Domino's as the best of the best, the 2018 winner of the Tech Accelerator of the Year Award

FSTEC, a conference for the users and suppliers of restaurant technology, was presented last week in Orlando, Fla., by Restaurant Business’parent company, Winsight. 



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