The resilience of the Fridays brand and its success in new formats during the pandemic has encouraged chief executive Robert Cook to explore other options for growth, he told MCA.

“Our Fridays at Home offering, and click and collect, did exceptionally well during the past 12 months,” he said. “So it would be remiss of us not have a look at what Fridays could look like in a QSR or drive-in environment.”

Cook said it was important to look ahead to the world of the electric car, and the time it takes to fill. “The dwell time on the forecourt is going to be longer and it will have to be experiential because half an hour to fill a car is a long time. There could well be an opportunity there,” he added.

Fridays is due to open a new site on Lincoln High Street later this week and is “opportunistic” in terms of future acquisitions.

Robert said the business had been prudent and that preservation of cash had been the number one priority, but it would still consider new sites if the opportunity was right.

“As things have unfolded – and Lincoln is a great example of this – there are great deals to be had. If you have got the wherewithal to do them, this is the time,” he said. “There are interesting deals being presented to us on a daily basis now, and there are a couple of things on the table. But the first thing we have got to do is restore the balance sheet.”

Fridays has secured a handful of new sites, including one in Chelmsford which will open towards the tail end of this year, beginning of next, giving it a presence in Essex’s main town that it felt was missing from its portfolio.

While Fridays typically has a square footage of around 6,500, Cook recently said it would consider smaller footprints, depending on the location and deal, with Lincoln coming in at around 4,500 sq ft.

In addition to growing the Fridays brand, the business is soon to launch a new smaller format cocktail-focused business called 63rd + 1st. The debut site will open in Cobham on 27 May and, like with Fridays, Cook said the growth of the brand would be opportunity-led.

63rd + 1st will be aimed at a more affluent and younger professional population and harks back to Fridays bar heritage, although there will still be a large element of food. “In order not to compete (with Fridays) we see it going more into university and cathedral cities, such as Cambridge, Oxford, Edinburgh and Glasgow,” explained Cook.

“If we find the right site that fits this profile then that’s worth looking at. But the lens is firmly on the entry deal, rather than the need to grow the brand,” he added.

Reopening

Based on trading in Scotland, since indoor dining opened on 26 April, Cook said he was encouraged about the coming weeks and months in the rest of its estate.

He said despite Scottish sites having been unable to serve alcohol indoors and subject to an 8pm curfew, they had achieved “amazing numbers”. And immediately after the announcement that restrictions would be eased so that alcohol could be served indoors and till 10.30pm from 17 May, Fridays saw a further 1,000 covers booked in.

“Likewise for England, we have big numbers on the books,” he added.