Today, TGI Friday’s is more or less just another chain bar and grill, a notch or two up from competitors like Applebee’s and Chili’s. But without Friday’s, the chain restaurant scene in America would be very different; the company blazed a trail and made history in the process.
TGI Friday’s traces its roots to New York City in the mid-1960s, right when the sexual revolution was beginning in earnest. A man named Alan Stillman noticed that there were essentially two places to get a drink in that era: cocktail parties held someone’s home, or bars, which were generally frequented only by men. He realized that there were no public hangouts where young men and women could socialize, so he decided to do something about it: He borrowed $5,000 from his mother, bought a bar on the corner of 63rd Street and First Avenue called the Good Tavern, and gave it a fixing up, adding fake Tiffany lamps, wooden floors, striped tablecloths, brass rails, stained glass, and good food. He named the bar TGI Friday’s, taken from an old saying he’d picked up as a student at Bucknell University: “Thank God It’s Friday.” Whether he realized it or not, he was inventing the singles bar.
The doors opened on March 15, 1965, and TGI Friday’s was an immediate hit. Crowds lined up to get in from day one, creating such a scene that velvet ropes were needed to corral them. There really wasn’t anything else like it, and the bar became a phenomenon. Competitors soon followed suit, and Stillwell replicated the formula all across town, opening spinoffs named Tuesday’s, Thursday’s, Wednesday’s, and Ice Cream Sunday’s. The era of every bar being men-only dives or high-end cocktail lounges was over; now there was a place for everyone.
Stillman focused on running his bars with his friend and business partner Ben Benson, and in 1971 the first franchised location of Friday’s opened in Memphis. Later that year businessman Dan Scoggin bought rights to open locations in eight major Midwest U.S. cities, and a new prototype he opened in Dallas, with the trademark elevated bar, knick-knacks on the walls, and multilevel dining room, set the company standard and opened with triple the profits of any other bar in the company. Stillman and Scoggin partnered up to form TGI Friday’s Inc., and Stillman stayed with the company until it was sold to Carlson Companies in 1975; Scoggin stayed on as CEO for another 15 years.
Today, Friday’s has shed most of its reputation as a booze-fueled singles bar; its shift to a family-friendly restaurant was a calculated move in 1989, when it went back to being privately held after six years on the stock market. Today there are more than 1,000 TGI Friday’s locations across the United States and in more than 60 countries, carrying on the legacy that was started by Stillman and taken national by Scoggin. Read on for 10 more things you didn’t know about this legendary chain.
Alan Stillman Opened the First Location as a Way to Meet Women
The Upper East Side of New York City in 1965 was a hotbed of "stewardesses," secretaries, fashion models, and other young singles. Stillman has made it well known that his primary motivation for opening the bar was to meet some of them.
The First Friday’s Was the First ‘Singles’ Bar’
Before Friday’s, there really was nowhere for a group of single women to go for a night of casual dinner and drinks. The fact that there was now a safe place where groups of young women could gather on a Friday night wasn’t just new — it was revolutionary. The first location was so popular that it brought in $1 million in revenue in its first year — the equivalent of about $7.5 million today.