Shady Things About TGI Fridays Menu

Believe it or not, there was a time when TGI Fridays was cool. Its founder, Alan Stillman, opened its first location in 1965 in an area of Manhattan frequented by airline stewardesses and models in an ambitious effort to meet girls. "Before TGI Fridays, four single twenty-five year-old girls were not going out on Friday nights, in public and with each other, to have a good time," he later told Edible Geography, adding that it quickly became so busy that they needed velvet ropes to control the crowds.

Nearly 60 years later, it's safe to say that demand has cooled for a night at TGI Fridays. Today, the chain boasts over 600 restaurants everywhere from Australia and Egypt, to China, and the United Kingdom. However, it's not single people or partiers frequenting these restaurants nowadays, but rather families and diners who care more about fueling up with burgers or mozzarella sticks ASAP than they do fine cuisine, and revenue is on the decline.

There are plenty of explanations as to why TGI Fridays is struggling, but it's hard to ignore the role of its actual menu. Like most casual dining spots, the challenge is keeping up with consumers who'd rather get cheaper food delivered to their front door, or eat better food somewhere else. It doesn't help matters when you start to delve into some of the shadier aspects of the TGI Fridays menu. Here are a few things you should know before you next declare "Thank god, it's Friday."

Several restaurants have been caught lying about their alcohol

Unless you're ordering a beer or a bottle of wine, you often have no choice but to put blind faith in the honesty of the restaurant that the premium you're paying for your alcohol is actually justified. Back in 2013, however, it turned out that some TGI Fridays customers had been duped by this very belief, with 13 franchise locations owned by the Briad Group caught out in a raid identifying restaurants that lied about their alcohol.

The scam went a little like this: customers ordered what they thought was a premium, high-end liquor, only to be served drinks using cheaper, lower quality alcohol. One of the restaurants affected by the raid (which weren't all TGI Fridays locations) was even accused of using a blend of rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring instead of scotch. "Briad's restaurants were scamming customers by serving them a cheap substitute for what they ordered," said New Jersey's Acting Attorney General John Hoffman. Unsurprisingly, the franchised restaurants (all of which were located in New Jersey) got into major trouble for their efforts, with the Briad Group receiving a whopping $500,000 fine. True, this only affected a handful of TGI Fridays restaurants (that we know of) but it's still pretty alarming to know that this kind of ruse can happen right under your nose.

Customers think the portions are getting smaller

Nobody chooses to dine at TGI Fridays because they're looking for a healthy meal. This is very much a carbs and comfort destination, renowned for hefty portions that you end up taking home, putting in the fridge, and forgetting about until it's too late to eat them.

But if you ask some TGI Fridays customers, that may not always be the case anymore. Several restaurant regulars have complained about shrinking portions, with the steak receiving the most frustrated shoutouts on Reddit. One user shared a picture of a particularly minuscule steak, to which other Redditors noted, "That would be the last meal I ever ate there if that was served to me." As others pointed out, "Usually a steak of this size would be called a 'medallion,' and have a lower price point. TGI Fridays seems to be becoming more and more of a sad joke with each passing day..."

Another user shared a picture of an equally minute steak, using their lighter to demonstrate just how small it was upon arrival. Shrinkflation isn't an uncommon phenomenon in this day and age as many businesses (restaurants included) reduce the size of their offerings without lowering prices in order to maximize profits. However, that doesn't make it any less frustrating to witness it in action — especially if it's your meal that's affected.

Surprising menu items aren't vegetarian

Considering the majority of its menu is made up of meat, meat, and more meat, TGI Fridays isn't the most obvious establishment for a vegetarian's night out. If you are veggie and you do end up at Fridays, you may want to be careful what you order, as some inconspicuous items on the menu aren't as meat-free as they may seem.

A quick look at the TGI Fridays allergens guide shows warnings for shellfish and fish in unexpected dishes such as Fries, Mozzarella Sticks, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, and more. Yes, there's always a chance that this is just a cross-contamination risk, but that still begs the question of why there would ever be an opportunity for our mozzarella sticks to contain even a trace of shellfish in the first place.

Considering how unlikely it is that you would just happen to memorize the full allergens menu pre-dinner (unless, of course, you do actually have a serious allergy), this also makes us wonder just how often vegetarians are accidentally consuming some kind of meat. In the past, former TGI Fridays workers have advised against ordering anything from the chain if you're vegetarian due to the risk of cross-contamination and the surprising use of animal products in seemingly-veggie dishes. For your own peace of mind, we recommend checking (and double checking) with your server before placing an order at TGI Fridays as a vegetarian, as well as giving that aforementioned allergens guide a thorough read.

It's been accused of hiding drink prices in the past

Picture this — you sit down for dinner and order a drink. When that's done, you pick out another cocktail and order again. Then again. When the bill comes around, you find yourself face to face with an unexpected total because none of these drinks were listed with prices, which meant you didn't realize you were spiraling into pricey territory.

If this has happened to you, it was probably somewhere a little bit more upscale than TGI Fridays, where this practice is much more common. However, even TGI Fridays has gotten into trouble for concealing drink prices in the past. In 2014, Robert Cameron sued a TGI Fridays operated by South Jersey Pubs Inc. for this very reason, claiming that he had spent $5 on a beer and nearly $3 on a soda – something he would never have done had he realized the price. Fast forward six years and a New Jersey appeals court declared that the lawsuit could proceed as a class action case, giving others a chance to share similar grievances.

While TGI Fridays insists that it's listed drink prices in 2017, more recent complaints suggest this is still an issue in some locations. In 2022, a guest took to Reddit to blast the restaurant for this practice, writing, "I got a long island and a green tea shot and it came out to $18 something. There's def a reason they don't show prices lol." 

The Endless Appetizers aren't exactly endless

As far as restaurant deals go, Endless Appetizers is up there with the best. All-you-can eat appetizers? For just $12 a pop? Yes, please. After first introducing the offer in 2014, TGI Fridays spent several years ending then reintroducing the offer until it finally satisfied stomachs and announced plans to make Endless Apps permanent in 2017. It just failed to mention one tiny detail: it didn't mean permanent, it just meant permanent-ish.

Nobody can quite figure out when Endless Apps was removed from the permanent TGI Fridays menu. All we know is that it's not there anymore — and, when TGI Fridays does intermittently bring the offer back at various locations, it's not quite as "endless" as it makes out. Restrictions include only being able to enjoy unlimited servings of one appetizer (which should theoretically make it Endless App?). Even once you do pick between the likes of Mozzarella Sticks and Loaded Potato Skins, you're not able to share said appetizer with anybody else at your table, or take home any leftovers. Customers have also complained that servers deliberately take a long time serving up refills of your Endless Apps in what seems to be an attempt to discourage you from taking full advantage of the offer. That's stretching the definition of "endless" pretty far in our opinion.

It allegedly microwaves a lot of its food

Let's be real, there's a reason why fast casual restaurants are able to whip up dishes so fast. Chains are pros at coming up with shortcuts to streamline the cooking process. Sometimes, this can mean that the chefs don't even have to do a whole lot of cooking, with microwaves doing most of the heavy lifting.

According to those who've frequented its kitchens, that's certainly the case at TGI Fridays. Former chefs have claimed that staff rely on the microwave for multiple dishes at the restaurant, such as soups, steaks, and even lobster. While you'd expect a food as grandiose as the latter to have a more dignified preparation process, TGI Fridays didn't deny this fact when questioned by Business Insider in 2017 (although it did deny having anything but "strict enforcement of our food safety and operational standards" when also accused of keeping raw and cooked meat next to each other).

As a general rule, telltale signs of microwaved food in a restaurant include dishes that are served up at an alarmingly fast rate or aren't eligible for any swaps or substitutions (because they're already pre-made). The texture also tends to be off with microwaved dishes. So, if you notice any of these details next time you're eating at TGI Fridays, now you know why.

It sometimes sells food under a different name

Ghost kitchens (also known as cloud kitchens or virtual kitchens) aren't uncommon nowadays, with the number soaring since the onset of COVID-19. The idea is that a restaurant can operate without an actual physical, sit-in location, instead only offering food via delivery apps such as Uber Eats, Postmates, or DoorDash. Despite boasting a physical location, several existing restaurant chains have jumped on the trend to sell food under alternative names — a practice that some have slammed as a deceitful attempt to trick customers into thinking they're ordering from a small business, when really it's just food made in the kitchen of their local TGI Fridays.

That's right, TGI Fridays operates under several pseudonyms on food delivery apps, including Krispy Rice (launched in 2021 to sell sushi, something you won't find at your typical TGI Fridays) and Conviction Chicken (which was also launched in 2021 and basically just rounds up the restaurant's chicken dishes and lists them with new names or images). Some customers have reacted negatively to discovering this fact after ordering. "Something about sushi being made in the back of a TGI Fridays gives me the ick," complained one TikTok user,  who also criticized the quality of the sushi (which apparently used sauerkraut in place of ginger, a detail that's pretty indicative of a sushi restaurant's authenticity).

It hasn't lived up to its promises to source humane pork

The tension between restaurants and animal rights activists comes to a head whenever someone raises the topic of gestation crates. These are used to confine pregnant sows but provide very little space for them to lie down, raising accusations of animal cruelty and unethical meat sourcing practices from those using suppliers that raise their animals in such a way.

TGI Fridays vowed to improve its pig sourcing in 2013, claiming on its now-archived website that its "goal is to only purchase pork from suppliers that can demonstrate documented plans to end their use of gestation crates for breeding sows." As of 2022, however, the likes of World Animal Protection have slammed the chain for "walk[ing] back their pig welfare policies" and "removing their original commitments from all public-facing materials."

At present, the Corporate Responsibility page of the TGI Fridays website delves into its progress sourcing chicken that is American Humane certified, as well as the fact that it now only sources cage-free eggs. The origins of its pork, however, fails to warrant even a single mention. World Animal Protection has subsequently placed TGI Fridays in its red tier of businesses making progress towards ending sow confinement, alongside the likes of Cracker Barrel, Arby's, IHOP, and Applebee's. On the other end of the spectrum, Chipotle was praised for axing gestation crates from its supply chain altogether. Do better, TGI Fridays.