In 1965, the first bar called Thank God It’s Friday! opened in New York. Over the next 50 years, TGI Friday’s went through evolution and expansion. It started out as a singles bar, and later moved into the family dining experience with the same clientele as they aged. And it pioneered the idea of “flair,” the elaborate decorations featuring Tiffany lamps, ferns, and antiques all over. The antiques were inspired by Cracker Barrel, and in turn TGI Friday’s inspired Ruby Tuesday, Applebee’s, and other chains to use them. But things are changing, and a new prototype TGI Friday’s opened in Corpus Christi, Texas, this year with a minimalist look, designed to appeal to Millennials.
Truth told, restaurant kitsch has been dying a slow death for the last decade. There are exceptions, of course—the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store brand depends on folksy nostalgia to appeal to its long-standing customer base. But less-rural restaurants felt the sting when 1999 movie “Office Space” mocked the typical chipper casual-dining atmosphere and its myriad “pieces of flair.” In 2005, Friday’s went through the first of a series of make-unders, removing the fake Tiffany lamps and reducing the number of vintage tchotchkes on its walls. In 2007, Friday’s competitor Ruby Tuesday jettisoned its Tiffany-style lamps and flea-market mementos for a more sophisticated look while offering more expensive fare. Five years later, Chili’s Bar and Grill debuted its remodeled prototype in Mesquite, Texas, replacing its jumble of Southwest kitsch with Modernist furniture in natural woods and a few well-appointed antiques like framed sepia-toned photographs.
The new Corpus Christi Friday’s, however, is the first time the restaurant has completely severed itself from its original retro, candy-striped image. Jeff Walsh, president of Hospitality Solutions Design, spent decades adorning casual-dining spots with memorabilia. After starting his career as an antiques picker 35 years ago, Walsh launched his Beverly, Massachusetts-based interior design group, which has worked with Friday’s, Chili’s, Applebee’s, Bennigan’s, and Chevy’s, among others. Today, he says, restaurant owners are asking for a completely different style.
Collectors Weekly takes us through the history of TGI Fridays and some other restaurants that use antiques for flair, and the suppliers who rounded up all those antiques for them.