Take-out success led to fewer closures than expected

  • TGI Fridays will close fewer locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic than originally speculated.
  • CEO Ray Blanchette said TGI Fridays will close between 10% to 12% restaurants globally.
  • The chain adapted to changing consumer behavior by improving delivery and curbside pickup.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

TGI Fridays will close fewer locations due to the COVID-19 pandemic than originally announced.

The chain’s CEO Ray Blanchette will close between 10% to 12% restaurants globally at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. The chief executive told Bloomberg in May TGI Fridays would permanently close 20% of US restaurants due to declining sales from the pandemic.

“We went into the pandemic saying, how do we save as many jobs and as many businesses as possible around the globe,” Blanchette said in an interview with Insider.

Blanchette joined TGI Fridays in 2018 after more than a decade leading Ruby Tuesday, Au Bon Pain, and the parent company of Joe’s Crab Shack. Just over a year into his new role and the COVID-19 pandemic upended the hospitality and restaurant business, leading to global shutdowns and layoffs. 

But due to royalty abatements and investments into delivery and curbside pickup, Blanchette said TGI Fridays has recovered initial losses.

Read more: The pandemic destroyed TGI Fridays’ comeback strategy. Here’s what the CEO says the chain plans to survive the looming recession

The restaurant chain adapted to changing consumer behavior by improving delivery and curbside pickup, the chief executive said. 

Going into the pandemic, TGI Fridays generated 12% of total revenue from takeout and other purchases that occurred outside of the physical restaurant. Now, Blanchette said, the figure has jumped to the “mid-thirties.”

The road to recovery wasn’t easy, Blanchette said, especially when states and cities closed or limited indoor dining to curb transmission once cases began creeping up. 

Researchers at Stanford University estimated full-service restaurants would yield some of the biggest increases in COVID-19 cases given their limited space and the fact diners stay over an hour. Line cooks have the highest mortality rate during the pandemic, per a study from the University of California, San Francisco, but data on COVID-19 case demographics are limited due to insufficient contact tracing.

Blanchette said restricting dining rooms has “massively” impacted sales. January sales in California dropped 67% after the state closed all indoor restaurants and bars, he said. In Texas, meanwhile, Blanchette said the chain had “limited restrictions,” and sales up just slightly, at three-tenths of a percent, year-over-year.

“We are not the super spreaders,” Blanchette said. “Our team members do not over-index in infection rates, and they’re in the restaurants eight, 10 hours a day.”

Instead of fighting with restaurants, Blanchette called for a robust stimulus to help the industry recover. After Americans received $600 stimulus checks after the last coronavirus aid package passed, restaurants reported a short-term increase in sales, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“We’re developing young people’s work ethics, we’re bringing immigrants in and creating a path to success in America,” Blanchette said. “I think we deserve a little credit for that and a little support from the government.” 

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