Ridiculous – but I sent nothing back
T HE decor in TGI Friday's – random items vomited whimsically all over the walls – always strikes me as the work of people trying too hard, like the guy who goes to his party trick when he's clearly still sober.
"Hey look!" the decor says. "It's a surfboard! Right up here on the wall! And surfboards aren't supposed to go on walls, are they? WELCOME TO WACKYVILLE – POPULATION: YOU!"
Likewise, I suspect that somewhere in TGI Friday's staff training, they teach them all the basic TGI faces. There's Face 1 (basic happy), Face 2 (unnervingly happy, usually deployed after learning it's your birthday), Face 3 (perky and educational, deployed when explaining the specials) etc.
But I was in need of lunch, and I reckoned my dour disposition could overcome any attempt to cheer me up. I got seated in a corner under statues of the Blues Brothers being gazed upon by a portrait of Martin Luther King Jr (I have no idea) and grabbed the menu.
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Or anyway, a menu. Confused by the phalanx of menus on the table, I reached out for the first thing I could find and found myself staring at my cocktail options. In particular, I opened to the page devoted to ice cream cocktails. That exercise in Ben, Jerry and Caligula indulgence looked fun, but not at 1pm on a Tuesday. I ordered a Diet Coke (free refills, huzzah!) and located the food menu.
For an appetiser, I tried the Jack Daniel's sesame chicken strips. The Friday's folks love their JD sauces, which tend to come to the table looking like little oil slicks. The sauce offered a slightly tangy, tart kick, which helped as, on their own, the strips would have been a bit too sweet and possibly stuck to the wall if thrown.
For my main I decided on a life of adventure and ordered the wild boar burger. A member of staff came back moments later and, using Face 4 (happy but penitent), told me they were out of the wild boar burgers. I had some sympathy, as it can't be easy to track and kill enough wild boar for a entire week's-worth of lunch rushes. I opted for a burger featuring more placid Angus beef.
It arrived soon after, and a great beast it was. Although, to be honest, they hadn't really needed to tell me it wasn't wild boar. It could have been unicorn meat for all I could tell, slathered as it was with dense layers of cheese and sauce.
Again there was a special sauce, this one a barbecue/ranch number. This combining of things seems to be a big deal at Friday's. It's a bit like watching late-night infomercials on high-numbered cable channels. It's a back hair remover! But it's also a mango pulper! And wait! ...
The barbecue/ranch concoction came to the side, giving you the option of deciding how crazy you want this party to get. I damned the consequences and dumped the whole thing on the burger.
By this point it was a great, dripping, precariously leaning mess begging to be eaten with a knife and fork, but I laugh at danger. I picked it up and began wrestling the great beast into my mouth.
Motoring through the levels became a task akin to drilling to the Earth's molten core, only with a greater likelihood of spilling hybrid barbecue sauce on your trousers. Here was a layer of salad. There, the strong taste of cheddar. Up ahead, barbecue sauce – not to be confused with barbecue/ranch sauce, which was also making its presence felt. And in among it all, a plump piece of meat that, it must be said, was a thick and tasty wedge off a cow that did not die in vain.
They've got two weekday specials menus – one featuring two courses for £9.99, one featuring two courses for £14.99. My meal came off the £14.99 menu and, while I didn't feel gouged, I think they've got the pricing more appropriate on the £9.99.
It was one of the most patently ridiculous meals I have eaten in some time – but I sent nothing back. I suspect people enjoy TGI Friday's for the same reason people enjoy Las Vegas or those theatre shows where everybody sings along to Abba songs. If you stand up and say "This is all absolutely nuts!" you'll be agreed with and asked what your point is.
Better to sit back, make Face 2, and enjoy it for the (actually somewhat tasty) lunacy it is. A surfboard? Over my table? Why, whatever next.