David Spirito

TGI Fridays

TGI Fridays is a Dallas-based restaurant chain with locations across the U.S. and in 60 countries. The casual dining powerhouse offers a neighborhood bar and grill experience at its nearly 890 U.S. restaurants.


Following the success of its initial menu test in five TGI Fridays locations in October 2017, the Beyond Meat Burger was added to the menu nationwide, becoming the fastest test-to-table menu offering in the restaurant chain’s history. The Beyond Meat Burger is listed as a standalone menu item and as a substitute patty option for any of the eight existing burger builds on the menu.


Q: Why did TGI Fridays choose to add the Beyond Burger to the menu?

David: We wanted to offer our guests expanded options to address the lifestyle and diet needs they might have. Fridays is a 53-year-old brand and we have to continue to innovate with our customers. When the Beyond Meat Burger hit the market, it was an extremely innovative burger. We chose the Beyond Meat Burger based on its flavor and partnered with Beyond Meat to bring it to our customers.


Q: What are the benefits from your perspective of offering the Beyond Burger?

David: It fits a need that we heard from our guests. The meatless movement is very strong, and we wanted to offer something that fits that ask. It was also important to us that the meatless option felt authentic, we didn’t want something meatless that didn’t fit our brand, that we couldn’t execute really well. That’s why we love the Beyond Meat Burger, you can just grill it, and grilling is what we do best.


Q: Did you see an overall sales increase when the Beyond Burger was added to the menu?

David: When we launched the Beyond Meat Burger, we saw lots of social media activity, people were taking pictures, tagging us a lot. We saw a 67% sales lift compared to our previous meatless burger, which was a black bean patty. Customers really liked the black bean patty, people used to say, “Thank you for having an option for us.” But the Beyond Meat Burger has trumped the black bean patty.


Q: Is the Beyond Burger priced similarly to other burgers?

David: We line price with our range, and the price varies depending on franchise and region. It’s in line with other burgers on our menu.


Q: Do you have insights into whether customers ordering the Beyond Burger are vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian?

David: The demand is coming from everybody. My father recently tried it, he drove out to a Fridays to have one. We’re getting good responses from organizations associated with Meatless Monday, flexitarians, etc. There is representation from each group of diners, it’s not just one group driving it. Beyond Meat is putting the burger in more places like Whole Foods Market and hotel chains. We hear from a lot of people who haven’t been to Fridays in many years but say that they’re coming back for the Beyond Meat Burger.


Q: Do you have insight into whether the Beyond Burger is attracting new consumers to your restaurants?

David: It’s definitely bringing in new people. We can see who is coming in using social media. We are attracting new and returning fans back to our brand, and the Beyond Meat Burger has been bringing in newer audiences craving newer menu items.  And it’s not just social media, it’s also anecdotal feedback from our guests. There are a lot of people coming into Fridays specifically to try the Beyond Meat Burger.


Q: How is the Beyond Burger promoted, particularly in comparison to other dishes?

David: It’s featured within our menu, we have a great picture promoting it. For the first 6 weeks after launch, we partnered with Beyond Meat to put branded flags in the burgers, to give them some distinction. We have also featured the Beyond Meat Burger on our website landing page. We are currently running a couple different promotional and positioning tests, putting it alongside other burgers as a co-star.


Q: Is the Beyond Burger harder to store, prepare, and serve?

No, we handle all of our products the same way, and we adhere to the shelf life that is assigned by the manufacturer. With vegan or allergen menu items, our cooks are trained to not cross-pollinate with other items. We store everything according to hierarchy, in the right section, and make sure we use separate tongs to handle those items.


Q: Did you have to do special staff training on cooking or serving?

David: Most of the process is the same as for other products.  For servers or managers in our stores, any time we roll out new menu items, they all try it, so everyone tried the Beyond Meat Burger the same way they try other new products.  If someone orders it vegan, we do not cook it on the broiler, because we cannot guarantee that meat hasn’t touched the broiler, we pan cook it separately. We try not to touch other products with the same implements that touch this product. If someone is asking for vegan, we want to make sure we can accommodate.


When it is ordered as is from the menu, there are no differences to the cooking process. Beyond Meat actually wanted it that way, they wanted the handling process to be the same, with no special attention called to it.


Q: Do you have plans to offer more plant-based items or ingredients in the future?

David: We look at a lot of different options. We’re always looking for ways to innovate while being authentic. The Beyond Meat Burger fit perfectly, it’s an offering on the grill that fits with our brand and customers. Beyond Meat has showcased other products for us, like their meatballs and sausage. We just want to make sure as we go through the innovation pipeline that we are being authentic and responding to our customers’ needs.


We have gotten requests from the field to allow guests to add Beyond Meat to salads, for example; instead of a chicken breast, just add some Beyond Meat. That’s a step we will probably get to soon. For future developments in meatless, I think we’re in a good spot, and we’ll let guests determine where we go from here.


Q: What new plant-based products would you like to see manufacturers develop?

David: There is a lot of innovation being done. I’m interested to see companies take something that’s not typically healthy and make it healthy by making it plant-based. I’m interested to see how the next generation of diners drives us. We’ll wait to see what guests want and see how they respond.


Q: Where do you find new food innovation?

David: We find innovation in a lot of different places. We spend a lot of time learning with our vendors and doing our own research on trends and talking to consumers. We also travel, going to lots of different cities. All trends — whether it’s the coolest new sneakers or best new milkshake — they start out in small, hip places, and those are the best places to find innovation