EXCLUSIVE: TGI Fridays’ faithful ‘Red Mat Theory’ holds the secret to rapid kitchen service

TGI Fridays’ ability to turn around orders quickly and deliver the quality that customers expect is driven by a so-called ‘Red Mat Theory’ that it adopts throughout its kitchens, its group executive chef has revealed.

The American-themed dining chain currently boasts more than 82 restaurants and responsibility for its kitchens lies with head of food and drink, Terry McDowell.

Consistency of food and speed of service are two of the qualities most intrinsic to operational success in the casual dining space, and to achieve both of those the right kitchen set-up is imperative. 

Fridays relies on a ‘Red Mat Theory’ when designing its kitchens, which is the notion is that at each station, chefs should be able to stand on an imaginary mat and produce a dish without moving.

McDowell says it’s a concept modelled entirely around economy of movement and speed.

“We design our kitchens with as few steps as possible, having everything to hand, and we help our teams with the processes they have in regards to forecasting sales and product mix,” he told FEJ. “What that does is help them pull together how much food or how many items they’ll need for that particular shift, which means that we have consistent food quality, fresh food and it also helps with our margin.”

Fridays has signed off four openings for this year and another five for 2019, while it has even started looking at the pipeline for 2020 and 2021.

It is likely that many of the new sites will have open kitchens. Whereas the chefs and their equipment were once hidden out of sight, they are increasingly becoming part of the overall experience.

“We have gone from having solid windows, as in heat passes, to where you can turn them down to individual parts to dictate your business needs, to totally open kitchens. I think about 40% of our restaurants now have open kitchens, so over the years I have worked here that’s quite a lot of change.”

The full interview with Mr McDowell can be read in the May issue of FEJ, available here as a free digital download.

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