Friendly's tinkers with menu again in vain attempt to avoid its real problem

The Friendly’s Fribble has real ice cream once again, MassLive reports.

Oh, who cares? What's been killing Friendly's for the past decade isn't the food, or the decor. It's the service. Maybe if they can figure out how to serve fast food fast instead of agonizingly slow, they might have a shot. They shut the Friendly's in West Roxbury (West Roxbury! Can you think of a neighborhood more quintessentially Friendly's than West Roxbury?) and then the one in Dedham, because people finally got tired of waiting forever for service. Well, maybe there is hope:

Employees all had to re-interview and be rehired for their jobs and had to be retrained with an eye toward faster service and a cleaner, more pleasant restaurant.

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Comments

You nailed it.

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I used to love Friendly's, but they have, ironically, the worst service of any chain restaurant I've ever been to. I've been to the ones in Brockton and Natick and both were equally horrible. I really can't even begin to understand why.

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Amen

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The problem with Friendly's service has been longstanding -- I remember swearing the place off after a hideous experience circa 2000 in Chestnut Hill, and then again in 2008 at the Natick Mall. There is always a place for diner food and Conehead sundaes in the Massachusetts restaurant world, but first they have to stop hating their own customers so much.

I've pretty much forgotten that Friendly's exists

because they've closed all the locations anywhere near the parts of Boston and suburbs where I usually go. They have ceded a huge amount of territory and mind-share to JP Licks, Emack & Bolio's, Ben & Jerry's, and various local independents such as Toscanini's and Christina's.

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Gamma Globulin Grape

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I suspect the whole mess with the East Arlington location and that Hepatitis A scare did them no favors in our end of town.

Ouch

Besides that one, other Friendly's that I used to encounter (but no longer do) were in Charlestown (next to the ex-Foodmaster), Coolidge Corner, and Concord (near the train station).

Long ago, before my time here, the East Cambridge Savings Bank at Highland Ave and Cedar St in Somerville was a Friendly's.

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For decades!!!!

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The service has been horrible for decades!! When I was a kid in the sixties, we would get take-out ice cream cones there, but my parents wouldn't take us for a meal as it took too long and us kids would get too unruly with impatience and hunger.

As teenagers in the seventies, we hung out there 'cause we loved being unruly as we welcomed the wait.

After that, it was back to "let's go somewhere else. Friendly's takes too long". Though it was great if you wanted to sit for while and chat. Lots of time to catch up with a friend while you waited to place your order and then waited and waited for your food.

Now I do miss the Friendly's in West Roxbury. I'd go there for some alone time. Spread out the Sunday Globe and could get most of it read while waiting for their $2.22 (or was it $2.99) breakfast special. Couldn't beat that.

Nostalgia

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Ah yes - when I was a kid in the 70's, growing up very close to Bishop's Corner in West Hartford, CT, going to Friendly's was always a fun treat. (I don't even know if that one still exists.)

But somehow, from college on, here in MA, I lost the taste for Friendly's - I know I went to the ones in Waltham and Watertown, and they just weren't the same. And it also seems to me that the store-bought version of the ice cream isn't quite the same either - or maybe it just tasted better as a kid. (I still get the occasional hankering for the Watermelon Sherbet, though to me the store-bought version tastes less specifically watermelon than I remember it as a kid - it tastes very sweet, but the flavor is a bit generic to me.) I remember always loving the burgers and the grilled cheese sandwiches. And of course the Fribbles and the ice cream sundaes. (Loved their hot fudge...) But as it often is with nostalgia, maybe the memory was actually better than the real thing?

I do agree, though, that their "hip" new menu items and their awful "trying to be hip" new theme song, etc, really miss the mark. I understand why they feel they have to do it, but naw - it doesn't work.

Good servers leave

I think part of the problem is that, since Friendly's doesn't serve alcohol, a good server can't make nearly as much in tips at Friendly's as s/he can at most table-service restaurants. So people will only work at Friendly's until they get enough experience to get a job at a better-paying restaurant.

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It's all about the service!

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There's always going to be a place for decent dinner food and ice cream. Yeah, palates are changing, but all these articles about Friendly's in today's news has put me in the mood for a big beef. Sadly, there are no Friendly's in my area.

I think most of the problem (at least from what I observed) is that they don't train the servers in service! They are trained in some ridiculously complicated abbreviations system that is supposed to reduce kitchen errors. The system probably worked great when the menu was small, and was probably easy to learn, but by the time I got there in the early 90s it took me half the summer just to get that straightened out.

I hadn't considered the alcohol angle, but I have to think that could be overcome.

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Poor Training and Communications

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My kid works there ans the abbreviations are INSANE! Also, the training was minimal and the general manager is vindictive. He reduced her hours to one day a week because we expressed concern that she was getting off at 11pm, TWO HOURS after her shift ended because table service and food prep were so slow. Who doesn't know that if you give someone a table at 850pm, they are not going to be off by 9??

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Elephant in the Room...

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I'll agree that service at Friendly's has always been spotty at best. But let's be honest, their ability to hire and keep good help is likely being hampered by their target audience. When you think of Friendly's and customers, what are the two images that come to mind? (Senior Citizens and teenagers). Statisticaly speaking, what customer base is least likely to leave a generous, or even adequate tip? Senior Citizens and Teenagers.

On a related note, roughly a year and a half ago, my partner and I stopped by the Friendly's in Waltham for Ice Cream on a Friday night, around 9 p.m. We were dumbounded when we arrived to find roughly 75 pre-teen/young teenagers running around the place, jumping on tables, and otherwise creating chaos. Meanwhile, another two minivans arrived to drop off another dozen or so pre-teens and then proceeded to drive away, leaving their kids in the care of the three waitresses on duty. (Who knows if the waitstaff even saw any tip money that night) After leaving the place in disgust, we ended up calling the police and told them they might want to send a car by to assess the situation.

It's easy to say this was an isolated incident, but frankly, I've been to other stores around the region and seen scenes that could have easily turned into this.

I grew up going to Friendly's. I like Friendly's food/ice cream, and I'll miss it terribly when the inevitable happens and it shuts all of the stores down for good. But if I was running Friendly's, I'm not sure what I would/could do to fix it. It's easy to say hire quality people and train them, but who really wants to wrangle teenagers on a Friday night when you could easily work in a more controlled environment like a Chili's, Applebees, or even a local diner. And what business can really be in the position of calling the police on their customers? Or their customer's kids. As much as I hate to say it, I think Friendly's is a concept whose time is coming to a close.

they are all slow

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Over the last decade, I have stopped at a lot of Friendly's between here and Ohio. We do a lot of driving back and forth to the grandparents, and when the kids were smaller they preferred the place.

All of them, without exception, are slow. Lunch takes one hour, except in extreme cases where it takes much longer. It does not matter how empty the restaurant is, it still takes that long.

This tells me that there is some system issue, something about the way the stores are set up or the food is prepared, that is the problem. They cannot possibly have hired every slow person in 5 states.

Or maybe

They've hired all the slow people, and now it's just taking them forever to get around to maybe firing them...

After lunch...

If they have a spare moment...

Ah, the hell with it.

It sounds like there might be

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It sounds like there might be serious problems in the kitchen. It's one thing if it takes forever to get a seat or a menu, but it isn't the server's fault (usually) if it takes ages to get any food out of the kitchen.

That reminds me

I ordered a fried chicken dinner at the Friendly's near the WalLex in about 1991. I should see if it's ready yet.

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I'll never forget

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what a manager once called customers during an employee meeting my GF attended. Use your imagination. Then again what did Goldman,Sachs[?] refer to clients as? Muppets? I bet that's been cleaned up.

Folks, poor pay = poor service, almost universally. I for one don't expect stellar service and uber friendliness in a place like Friendly's ... just reasonably efficient and polite.

It also shows that management treats employees probably poorly.

We live in a society that expects too much for too little, and I'm not just talking about friendly's. Many people don't want to hear this, I understand. I personally think their are MANY angry, passive aggressive people out there who get off being a PITA [pain in the ass] especially when they have even just a little power over another human being and especially if there's anonymity [hence road rage, etc.].

For what it's worth...

I've actually noticed some positive changes at their Saugus store. Food is usually served in 15-20 mins and is actually made correctly! I've also found the servers to be very nice and attentive. I will say I usually go on the same day of the week and time (Wednesday night) so it could just be those particular staff and/or the chef who's on that night, but still nice to see.

Middleboro Not Bad

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Five of us (3 adults, 2 kids) ate at the Friendly's in Middleboro eight days ago. The service was extremely good - no long wait for food, and the waitress was uber-smiley and pleasant.

That said, it was my first visit to a Friendly's in about six years, and maybe the last for a while. The food was not entirely unpleasant, but it was also nothing for which I would go out of my way for a return. The kids seemed to like it a lot, though.

Suldog
http://jimsuldog.blogspot.com

I agree, I've received a lot

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I agree, I've received a lot of terrible service at many different Friendly's but the one in Middleboro is great. I work over at the DOC complex in Bridgewater and my co-workers and I often go to Friendly's for lunch. There's a young blonde waitress there who is always super friendly and fast. We are always in and out in under an hour.

Like Brigham's

Before it, soon Friendly's will be a shelf or two in the freezer section surrounded by cheap poorly made dairy free ice "cream"

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Brigham's

still exists in Arlington Heights, but no longer in Belmont, where it was replaced by an independent ice-cream maker. Where else are Brigham's stores hanging on, if anywhere?

iScream in West Roxbury

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Not technically a Brigham's, since, well, it's not called Brigham's, but all they serve is Brigham's ice cream.

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There's a Brigham's in Quincy

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There's a Brigham's in Quincy near the Wollaston stop. It's run by a little old German lady and her adult son. The service is excellent and I don't think it has ever been redecorated. I would highly recommend it over the Friendly's just down the street from there.

My take on Friendly's...

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My take on Friendly's...

Now full disclosure, I don't think I've step foot inside a Friendly's since Clinton left the White House.

The problem I've seen with Friendly's, outside of the service issues, is their lack of a nitch in the market. Friendly's of yesterday didn't have the 'family dining' competition. Now it has AppleBee's, Fridays, Outback... where the food is real food, less of a greasy spoon, and value priced.

The greasy spoon model can work... just go elsewhere in the US and look. Look at Steak & Shake, Waffle House, and Shoney's, they all have that similar greasy spoon format and seem to do well. And trust me, its not the service.. (Service at WaHo is awful..).

However, Friendly's needs to do four things..

1. Fix the service related issues. Hire new staff, retrain old ones.

2. Update stores. Even the franchised stores (do what McDonald's did.. force it). The 1980s pastels are out of style. Time to make it look more modern, more inviting. (see below)

3. Update the menu. Add healthier options (yeah I know but..). Have something for everyone and rotate the menu every season (this seems to work for other chains). Make people want to come in to try new things or have seasonal items. (think about how well this works for Dunkin Donuts where they have seasonal coffees and donuts.. people flock in because its only avaliable once a year)

4. Find their nitch. I've often thought Friendly's would do well if it ditched its 1980s interiors and went all retro. Think Johnny Rockets or Sonic. Make it campy, play 50s music, have waitstaff dress in 50s uniforms. If you are not going to change the menu much to adapt to the time, adapt your store to what your menu is.

A couple of other things that may work..

As much as it pains me to say this but make urban stores 24 hours. Yes, seriously. Some restaurants (i.e. the ihop on Soldiers Field Road) make bucks being open 24/7. It off sets the slow times.

Bring in outside brands.. i.e. Serve Dunkin Donuts Coffee, Cabot Dairy Products, Kayem Hot Dogs, etc. Make people come in for the brands, but stay for the food.

Push the Carry Out Service with a 15 minute guarantee. Many stores have an ice cream window.. does that ever get used outside of summer? Probably not. Make it a take out window instead. People can call ahead (or order online?) and pick it up.

And of course this suggestion is radical..

Merge Friendly's with another company to keep the brand alive. Think Darden Restaurants (Which owns Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and a few others). From there you could either co-brand stores (i.e. Dunkins and Baskin Robbins or Taco Bell and KFC.) These stores might survive better as a brand than a stand alone store. Too bad HoJo's isn't still around...

Yup.

Anyone who has fond memories of Friendly's has them because of the nostalgia factor, so exploiting that seems to be a good move. Heck, bring back the navy and white houndstooth check uniforms, too.

Friendly's jumped the shark back when they added mozzarella sticks and quesadillas to the menu, and I've been shaking head in dismay ever since. I haven't dined at Friendly's in a couple of years ever since a late afternoon burger and sundae took longer than a five course meal...but in looking at their current menu, it's not hard to figure our how they've lost their way Click through the sandwich/burger menus and see how many different kinds of bread/rolls they use. Are customers going to choose Friendly's because their chicken sandwich comes on a three cheese ciabatta roll? I doubt it.

And the fact that they formerly weren't using real ice cream in Fribbles? There are no words...

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These are good suggestions. I

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These are good suggestions. I wanted to point out, they did update their menu fairly recently and it has a couple of "trendy" items (one that comes to mind is the salad with green apples, walnuts, and blue cheese).

Now I am not here to disagree with any of the criticisms of Friendly's on this comment page, because most of them are spot-on. I will say however that as a parent of young kids, Friendly's is still a great place to go when you just can't stand to cook another pot of mac-n-cheese. The kids can still get their mac-n-cheese, plus ice cream, and the parents can have something more grown-up to eat. And it's a relaxed atmosphere where you don't have to feel all tense because your kid doesn't sit still. Of course, there is a fine line between "I like that no one minds my kid being a little bouncy" and "my kid is running amok through the restaurant because I am a terrible parent" but some of us at least are aware of that line and take pains to stay on the correct side of it. Meanwhile it's nice to be able to go somewhere that really "gets" kids (menu items they love, coloring pages, cups with tops and cool color-changing straws, etc.) and where the standards of behavior are relaxed.

On the flip side, from the vegetarian standpoint Friendly's is pretty awful. Every salad on the menu includes chicken (of course you can ask for it without but that's not the point) and other than that your choices are basically a grilled cheese sandwich or a few appetizers. Yeah that kind of thing is pretty unforgivable in this day and age.

I work at a friendlys

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I work at a friendlys currently. Theres alot i could say. But for one thing friendlys isnt suppose to be fast food. We got ten min cook time for breakfast 15 for lunch and 15 to 20 for dinner. I am very nice and happy but after u get a table who doset care ur getting paid 2.13 a hour then decides not to tip or leave a low amount it kind of makes u not want to give ur all. We live off ur money. Even when i gonout to eat anywherre i alwayysss tip a generous amout if the checks 35$ they are getting 15$ tip bec i know how it is and i clean the table up. Another thing dont let ur kid run around the resturant showing no respect while u sit txting or emailing on ur phone!

Now I know why Friendly's blows

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And I am a BIG Friendly's fan.

I gave up on the West Roxbury one due to poor service. The Quincy (Hancock Street) one has bad service, but they do have the common decency to apologize for it. Needham was pretty good, but they lost out in the Reorg. I like Watertown, but it is a trek for me.

The overall idea of what Friendly's does- family dining with an emphasis on desserts- is a good one. Hopefully they hear from people like a lot of us here and heed the warning signs. Or they could go belly up.