marketing gimmicks

Can Bankrupt Friendly's Bounce Back With iPads and Health Foods?

Sundae, bloody sundae.

Sundae, bloody sundae.Photo: istockphoto

When Friendly's, the Massachusetts-based fixture, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday, the company blamed its financial woes on changing tastes and times; many similar chains, for instance, serve alcohol. (Some even serve to toddlers!) It's a downfall reminiscent of Brigham's sorry end: one more old-fashioned New England ice cream parlor left in the dust by food trucks and burrito shops. But Friendly's, unlike Brigham's, isn't going to melt quietly away.

The Globe has it that Friendly's rebranding machinations, designed to win over a new customer base, are now underway and going by a code name called "American Classic." But their "classic" new concept isn't really classic at all. Instead, it's just kind of sad: the restaurant equivalent of a middle-aged woman wooing an old flame with too much lipstick and too-tight pants.

The "Classic" overhaul involves a "more trendy look, iPads for order-taking, and focus on healthier foods." Just the way you remember it as a kid, right? The first "new" Friendly's will open this spring in Springfield, in western Massachusetts, not far from the company's Wilbraham headquarters.

The sad thing is, people really do love Friendly's for what it represents — a nostalgic, simple place that appeals to the very old, families, and the very young. Could it improve? Sure. The Globe points out that restaurant analysts cite "fresher food" and "better ambience" as areas in which Friendly's could step things up. Others lambast the chain for slow service.

These problems can be fixed without jumping into Chili's/Applebee's/TGI Friday's territory, though. Friendly's needs to do better at what they once did best, instead of using gadgets and "trends" as a Band-Aid. Really: The restaurant just isn't going to attract an entirely fresh legion of twenty-something fans who are dazzled by the concept of gadget-aided ordering. ("Do I want Chipotle for lunch today, or Friendly's? Guess I'll go to Friendly's — they have iPads!") A focus on healthier foods? That's great, but people go to Friendly's mainly for the ice cream. And "trendy atmosphere"? At Friendly's? Really? It's like putting Mister Rogers in a leather jacket.

This seems like a surefire way to alienate loyal followers (many of whom probably don't even own iPads) without winning any new ones. We want Friendly's to make a comeback. But as we noted yesterday, for an increasingly discriminating public, the way to do that is through originality, not assimilation.

An Institution Seeks Protection [Globe]

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