TGI Fridays chief executive Karen Forrester has said the company went through a period of “soul searching” last year after suffering a softening in sales for the first time in eight years.

She told the Casual Dining Show that the group turned around the decline by introducing recognition schemes for staff, as well as ruthlessly scrutinising performance and attempting to return to the roots of the brand.

She said: “We’d gone into decline and we didn’t know what to do. What we couldn’t do was say ‘we must do better’, it had to be a big gesture.

“Something wasn’t right and I think what happened is we stopped believing.

“The way to get back on top is to go back to where we started.”

Forrester said the turning point came during a winter summit in Barcelona for the group’s 400 managers where they faced up to the fact they were receiving 350 complaints a week.

They set about exploring what made the brand so popular in the beginning and how to reclaim that status during 100 days between June and September 2016.

They explored whether existing staff were right for the business and retrained.

Following the 100 days, she said TGI Fridays returned to growth, achieving 6% like for like sales, and reducing complaints from 350 to 150.

Forrester said the group was continuing to reduce the size of its menu, from 89 items a few years ago, to 66 now, with new, fresher items being trialled.