T.G.I. Friday’s is losing its flair. In place of the casual-dining restaurant’s traditional, signature look—a little bit Antiques Roadshow, a little bit Hoarders—the chain announced earlier this year that it would be adopting a new, modernized aesthetic: blond wood, clean lines, bright-but-soft lighting. In appearance, decidedly sleek; in vibe, decidedly Upscale Cafeteria.
In that, Fridays’ is going to be looking a lot like … Applebee’s, which recently announced a similar update to its front-of-the-house situation. And Chili’s. And Ruby Tuesday. And Olive Garden. And also like fast-food chains, which are, like their up-market competitors, embracing the strategically pared-down style that you might call “high meh-dern”: McDonald’s recently unveiled a series of new “design concepts” for its stores, all of them replacing the chain’s signature primary-colored formica with, yep ... blond wood, clean lines, and bright-but-soft lighting. Burger King has been giving its restaurants similar facelifts. So has Wendy’s. And Arby’s. And KFC. And Taco Bell.
The chains are taking a cue, it seems, from the popularity—which is also to say, from their perspective, the threat—of Chipotle and Panera and Shake Shack and their fellow establishments: fast-casual spots whose designs tend to de-emphasize design itself. Whether they seat their guests upon pleather banquettes or faux-industrial stools, these newly popular restaurants feature very little in the way of wall art or table art or strategic whimsy. And the casual dining segment, tired of losing market share to them, is now following their lead.