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TGI Fridays’ quest to reinvent happy hour (and itself) with chatbots and IoT

Clint Boulton | Aug. 24, 2017
To return to relevancy in an increasingly digital world, the casual dining chain is developing chatbots and experimenting with bar-top tablets, personalized TV services and other IoT technologies to lure more millennials to its restaurants.

It’s a tough time to be a causal dining brand, as Fridays, Ruby Tuesday, and Applebee's have suffered sales slumps and closed dozens of restaurants of late. Former Buffalo Wild Wings CEO Sally Smith recently wrote to shareholders in what was effectively her retirement letter: "Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants."

Fridays may be better positioned because Mityas has already learned the painful lesson of disintermediation. As the president and CEO of Hollywood Video parent Movie Gallery from 2008 to 2010, Mityas had a front-row seat as Netflix, and, later, other streaming video services such as Amazon Instant Video and Hulu pushed Movie Gallery and Blockbuster out of business.

That’s a big reason why Mityas is urgently testing any digital services that could give Fridays that surprise and delight factor to rise above the rest. He knows that chatbots won't cut it at a time when chains are rolling them out en masse. Fridays' board of directors is on board with his digital experiments because they see where the industry is going if it doesn’t drive change.

“Casual dining is video rental — it’s under attack from all fronts and you have to differentiate and be relevant again and be part of consideration set," Mityas says. “For today’s guests that means digital.”

Mityas has some advice for CIOs undergoing similar challenges: Give your staff more accountability and freedom to work. “I told them, I need you to own X and Y. As you give people more freedom, more rope, almost enough to hang themselves and enough to pull them back, amazing things happen.”

 

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