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A depressing ripoff mistake

We live near Union Square. My daughter, age 12, and I decided to try TGI Friday's for a Saturday lunch, thinking it would be a fun and tasty nod to suburbia. Not so. $4 for tea. $17 for a sandwich. Lower quality and worse taste than any other place I can think of. It made McDonald's seem like a four-star restaurant, and McDonald's doesn't cost $26 per person. Never ever again.
But the waiter, Ray, was very nice.

TGI Friday's
34 Union Square E, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Had you ever eaten in one before? I'm kind of mystified about why you thought it would be tasty?

    10 Replies
    1. re: MikeG

      Olive Garden and Applebee's aren't bad so.....

      1. re: jmmantel

        Hmm, never been to those, so I can't compare. I've been forced by circumstance to eat at a few TGIFs (in various 'burbs, in various states) and it's always been bad though I guess I didn't think worse than McDonald's...

        1. re: MikeG

          <Olive Garden and Applebee's aren't bad so.....>

          Well, actually, they are. Too salty, too greasy, too expensive for what you get. I'd rather have peanut butter cheese crackers and a can of Yuengling than Olive Garden or Applebees. If I'm gonna eat lousy food, I wanna eat lousy food that doesn't pretend otherwise.

          1. re: small h

            Amen, small h! I'd just eat an apple or whatever until I could get somewhere with more promise. Or any unknown local diner, for that matter.

            1. re: MelMM

              Ah, the unknown local diner. I'm batting about .275 with those, but I don't intend to stop trying. Otherwise I would never know the myriad ways to ruin eggs over easy and home fries (undercook! overcook! imbue with a mysterious fishy odor!) But hope springs eternal.

        2. re: jmmantel

          I've never been to Olive Garden but found Applebee's disgusting the one time I was taken there by a friend on the way back from a gig (it wasn't my choice and wasn't in Manhattan, and it was years ago).

          1. re: jmmantel

            I opt for starvation before going to either, throw in TGIF as well. I'll go out of my way to find the local guy who puts their heart and sole into the chow.

            1. re: treb

              I know you didn't mean it this way but I'm just imagining a line cook taking his foot and mashing a steak into the kitchen floor, thinking to himself, "How's that for sole? Eat up!"
              *Use any of the many references from the movie "Waiting"*

              1. re: treb

                Well, at least we now know where that "fishy taste" in the potatoes is coming from....sorry. Couldn't resist.

              2. re: jmmantel

                wow, that hasn't been my experience of either applebee's or olive garden. maybe you just got lucky with those. don't have a TGIF here any more, they closed about half of them nationwide (hint, hint) the ones here weren't terrible, not even bad. just not good, and yes, overpriced.

            2. Stand Up...put the crappy chain menus down...move away from the table...take your daughter out of those restaurants ...view recommendations from other Manhattan Chowhounds...never go back to ANY of those places.

              Welcome to CH, where people will teach you and your daughter the pleasures of eating and never having to return to Apples, TGs and OGs

              1. You paid $17 for a sandwich at TGiF? Jimminy Christmas!

                1 Reply
                1. re: pikawicca

                  $17 more than at Katz's or Carneggie Delis.

                2. Now you know! The tuition is kind of high but the lesson is valid. If someone had told you to stay away, you'd always wonder. Nothing beats first hand knowledge.

                  1. obscenities fail even me, sometimes.

                    1. Okay, kiddo, as jfood said, step away from the table. IMO, you're in food-nirvana. You have so much good and inexpensive food at your doorstep. When we're in NYC, we're like kids in a candy store. Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to troll the Manhattan board and find all the fantastic food that's available to you. Enjoy the journey.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: c oliver

                        This what I always tell my friends who live in NYC. Every so often I get these messages telling me that they are eating in Ruby Tuesdays and the Outback in NYC. I just want to cry.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          And the worst part is they have to pay NYC prices for something that costs $8-12 where I live!

                        2. I made the same mistake many years ago at a Red Lobster in Chicago. Those TV ads with the huge pink shrimp totally got me. My girlfriend was like, 'this is going to suck, but okay.' It was the expensive disappointment that I should have expected, and the saddest part of all was the tray of plastic desserts the waiter presented at the end of the meal. Ugh.

                          Red Lobster
                          5 Times Sq, New York, NY 10036

                          1. there's one on Union Sq East now???....ugh...on the positive side, i've felt better about my decision to sell my Union Sq loft (in 2007) than i do right now, knowing i narrowly escaped living in such close proximity to a TGIF... :)

                            For 26/person, you and your daughter could have actually gone to the tavern room at Gramercy Tavern and shared a couple tasty starters or maybe a cheese plate, then wandered to Madison Park and grabbed a couple Shake Shack burgers to take home :)

                            Gramercy Tavern
                            42 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003

                            1. Oh dear... I feel truly bad for you. In this great city of ours no one should have to eat at TGIFridays. Please post your likes and dislikes and we will be happy to help you find better places.
                              Saturday was a gorgeous day... would have been perfect for Shake Shack.

                              1. I am confused. Did you just move to Union Square? Or Nyc for that matter? Many chains in NYC are such tourist traps so please, for your sake, check in with Chowhound for some awesome lunch spots next time! ;-)

                                1. The cost of taking your 12-year-old daughter to TGIF doesn't end with the $26/person tab. There's the years of therapy that likely will follow ....

                                  1. I live in Suburbia - there's nothing fun or tasty about it. I'd give my left arm to live near Union Square. You and your daughter need to pinky swear never to use the words "fun" or "tasty" in the same sentence as "suburbia" - EVER. I'm glad you ended that thought with "never again". Was Ray wearing a lot of flair?

                                    1. Thank you to everybody who has replied, I've enjoyed your comments, this is better than Facebook. And yes, Ray had a lot of Flair.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jmmantel

                                        you sound like a really good sport, JmMantel. good of you to let us get our foodsnob on :)

                                        seriously though, these folks know what they are talking about and could point you and your daughter to some great places in your 'hood that will be better eats at a better price than any of the chains. stick around and try a few new restaurants, it'll be fun!

                                      2. Yeah, pretty much every TGIFs I've been to (not many, as after the second or third time I've tried to avoid them whenever possible! Can't control other people, though! LOL) has had horrible food that was pretty much over-priced for what you get. I remember getting a cheesesteak in a suburban NJ location and wondering how the heck they managed to screw THAT one up! :o)

                                        I got the impression that the OP isn't exactly a stranger to great food in NYC, just that he/she wanted to give TGIFs a try to see why it's so popular, and was disappointed that it was so popular due to this experience.

                                        I don't see anywhere where jmmantel said that a restaurant recommendation was needed for the area or that he/she wasn't sure of where to get a good meal in such a minefield of fine dining as Manhattan.

                                        30 Replies
                                        1. re: yfunk3

                                          You can throw a rock in Manhattan and find a better restaurant. It still puzzles me why places like Chili's, Applebee's and Olive Garden are always crowded in Manhattan (yeah, I get the tourist rube thing but isn't part of the experience of going to a new city to try something different?)

                                          1. re: ferret

                                            As alien as it is to me and most CHs, I'm bettin', there are actually people who come to NYC and care NOTHING about the food. Nothing. I know that's weird but I've heard the rumor :)

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I don't doubt it, but it's still a head-scratcher. I freely admit that while in Europe this summer I stopped into more than one McDonald's. Coke Light, Free Wifi and Air Conditioning.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                People always ask me what shows / exhibits / whathaveyous I plan on catching when in the city.... they are astonished when I tell them I have no such plans - I'm just there for the food.

                                                1. re: linguafood

                                                  Yep. We're doing a house exchange in DC soon and I'm SO focused on the food. Always the same.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Well.... we live to eat, after all. That includes, nay, emphasizes traveling for/to food!!


                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      that reminds me c oliver, there's a Ruby's on 7 at Chinatown in DC but only a handful of McD's and for the hard stuff (Taco Bell etc. ya gotta hit NY ave NE but I wouldn't do that without a car) otherwise it's the suburbs.

                                                      ladybug: god I was last dragged to TGIF extremely hungover by my parents and I could not even look at the server because of the 'flair', I was sure I'd turn into a pillar of salt or something.

                                                      cosmogrrl downstream: wow. in a city with so many great Italian places and I were the mom I would also be pantomiming thanks "god are you for real? Cheesecake is like sooo last week, sheesh nobody cool goes there anymore" not directly criticizing them, just letting them know what passes for hip in podunk mall town doesn't work here. but as a guy I prob. would have sort of directed it through the mother as in posing it "are they for real?"

                                                      I used to live along the California cable line (first Polk and Sacto, next Stockton and Pine 95-2000) and just held my tongue usually unless asked specifically.

                                                      1. re: hill food

                                                        It was the look on the Mom's face that made me volunteer info. I just couldn't let her suffer through that. Figured the teenagers would respond to "that is sooo not cool" line of thought. it was my good deed of the day.

                                                      2. re: c oliver

                                                        Just now reading your post. I wonder how it went regarding your food experience in D.C.

                                                        1. re: Rella

                                                          She went to Zatinya, on my recommendation, and didn't like it:( Just didn't like the flavor profile of Lebanese food. I will inquire about other meals and report back.

                                                      3. re: linguafood

                                                        I wish they had a "like" button on this forum. Linguafood, your post made me smile big time. I can so see my world-traveler/borderline anorexic friend hearing me say that. Her eyes would glaze over, mouth would be open longer than polite, etc.- she'd be thinking "What? No museums?" and shorting out at the prospect.

                                                        1. re: EWSflash

                                                          I was recently visiting our decidedly non-chowish friend in Baltimore. While we were waiting at the bar to be seated for dinner & I mentioned where we planned on having lunch the next day (Chap's pit beef - I know you'd wanna know '-)), she said she couldn't believe I was talking about lunch before I was going to have dinner. And how boring food in general was.... I could've ripped her a new one, but the discussion is futile with her. So I just said that there are people who find tea incredibly interesting, about which I couldn't care less. Different strokes.

                                                          Hard to hang out with her sometimes, tho ....

                                                          1. re: linguafood

                                                            > she said she couldn't believe I was talking about lunch before I was going to have dinner

                                                            Well, what else would one talk about?

                                                            1. re: linguafood

                                                              What? Doesn't everyone plan their next meal while they are at the current one?

                                                              Just kidding...however it was always standard procedure for my best friend and I to do this during college. Now when she comes to visit we plan each meal before she comes.

                                                      4. re: ferret

                                                        not all tourists are Americans. Coming from other countries and not knowing that these are chains how would people know if they are not CHers?

                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                          True that, and also note that unfamiliar fast food can seem mighty exotic. On my first trip to Paris, I was very excited to eat at Hit Marine, the French sort-of equivalent to McDonald's (I think it's defunct). I was 20 and easily dazzled. But what a cool name for a restaurant.

                                                        2. re: ferret

                                                          Once on my way to work on a cable car (I live in SF on a cable car line it's convenient sometimes), I saw a woman with two teenaged girls. The teenagers were waxing on the merits of Cheesecake Factory to their mother, who go that tired, "oh no not this conversation again" look. I then proceeded explain to the girls that Cheesecake Factory was VERY uncool, and that they should really go to these other VERY cool places. Mom mouthed a big "Thank You" when they weren't looking to me.

                                                          I understand the curiosity though. Because I live in a place sans chains, I occasionally eat at a chain in suburbia. I'm almost always disappointed, but somehow I do it (maybe once every 3 years). I think it's the marketing, it gets to you. Also suburbia sometimes doesn't have a lot of choices.

                                                          1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                            A Cheesecake Factory just opened in Bridgewater NJ (about 25 minutes away from me) and EVERYBODY is talking about it. I lived in CA about 24 yrs ago and The Cheesecake Factory was ALREADY getting uncool out there.

                                                            1. re: flourgirl

                                                              Uncool? Maybe. But I live in the Bay Area and the ones I see (PA / SJ) are mobbed. As is the one in Arcadia when I visit family.

                                                              1. re: FattyDumplin


                                                                What can I tell you except that it doesn't say very much for the tastes of a whole lot of people in the Bay area.

                                                                1. re: flourgirl

                                                                  I don't think it says anything. CF is fine for what it is. If you're on the go at San Jose mall and want a decent meal, it's a fine place to go. I wouldn't say anything is blow me away spectacular, but I don't find anything there offensive either.

                                                          2. re: ferret

                                                            My only comment to this thread is that I'm very doubtful that all the chain restaurants in NYC are only there for tourists. There are millions of people in NYC, and even if half of them are chowhounds, that's still a lot of people who are perfectly happy with chain food. After all, chains are successful because a lot of people like them!

                                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                              >chains are successful because a lot of people like them!

                                                              I'll have to look for a discussion on this topic. Why do I have such an aversion to chain restaurants? Is it because I have a magical belief that out there is a wonderful dive hidden in some wall?

                                                              1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                                With a chain you pretty much know what you're going to get, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you *want* to get. I'm guessing that, like me, you're willing to risk the tradeoff that an unknown might be terrible because there's at least a possibility it might be wonderful, which a chain will never be.

                                                                Or to put it another way, some people value consistency and uniformity and some people value uniqueness.

                                                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                  And then, there are some cases where you want one or the other. Yes, there are times when chains are appropriate.

                                                                  1. re: Tripeler

                                                                    Yes, there definitely are. Much as I'd like for them to, circumstances and logistics don't always make it possible to eschew a chain.

                                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                      Certainly agree. Generally, I avoid chains.

                                                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                        Yup. I actually ate at a TGIF in NYC (In the empire state building). Was there for a business trip and arrived late. Tired, a little hungry and cranky, I just went in there because a) they were they were a) closest to my hotel b) they had booze c) had a bar I could eat at which I prefer when dining alone.

                                                                        Of course i didn't feel ripped off because i knew what I was getting into, and also my company was paying for it.

                                                                        Plus they had booze, did I mention that?

                                                                        1. re: cosmogrrl

                                                                          ha! I've had drinks at that one too - was about the only thing open within a few blocks and it was a Sunday night a few weeks after 9/11 so nobody was in a good mood or feeling like even bothering finding anything better.

                                                          3. Just half a block to the north is a Brother Jimmy's BBQ location.

                                                            Note that in that area, everyone's sandwich is more expensive than the suburbs.

                                                            Brother Jimmy's Union Square
                                                            116 East 16th Street
                                                            New York, NY 10003
                                                            (212) 673-6465

                                                            1. At one time, it appears that Friday's was just another local place. From Wiki:

                                                              The Friday's restaurant chain was founded by Alan Stillman in 1965 in New York City, featuring standard American cuisine, bar food and alcoholic beverages. The restaurant was located at the corner of 63rd Street and First Avenue. The exterior featured a red-and-white striped awning and blue paint, and the interior included wooden floors, Bentwood chairs, striped tablecloths; the bar area added brass rails and stained glass. The employees were young and wore wacky uniforms, and every time someone had a birthday, the entire restaurant crew came around with a cake and sang Friday's traditional birthday song. The location is now a British pub called "Baker Street"; the brass rails are still there.

                                                              11 Replies
                                                              1. re: Clarkafella

                                                                Talk about a bowdlerized description. The original Friday's was not "just another local place," but one of the very first "singles bars." That description completely omits the substantial role Friday's played in the sexual revolution. I'm pretty sure the first Friday's was located close to an apartment building known as the "stew zoo" for its large concentration of flight attendants. And also, there were companion bars called Thursday's, Tuesday's etc.

                                                                The chain does suck like a Hoover now, but you gotta give it some props.

                                                                1. re: Bob W

                                                                  I'm in Memphis, TN right now- home of the second TGI Fridays in the US- that location, where I spent a lot of time, is long gone, but there is a Friday's attached to this hotel. They have Long Island Tea and Margaritas for $4 at night! Pretty good deal in my book; still I go down the block to eat...

                                                                  1. re: Clarkafella

                                                                    Ok, I too hate TGIF's food, with one exception. Those tempura green beans with wasabi ranch. There. I said it. I'll show myself out.

                                                                    1. re: LA Buckeye Fan

                                                                      That sounds really good. I'm going to have to try them.

                                                                      1. re: flourgirl

                                                                        Whenever I end up in a TGIF for some reason (maybe once a year) I always go for those green beans... I could eat mounds of them.

                                                                        1. re: Ditdah

                                                                          I've not seen the beans at Winchester, VA - is it an appetizer or side?

                                                                          Chains abound in Winchester, VA - the only one we go to is TGIF. I hadn't eaten 'head' lettuce for decades, but recently watching all the episodes of "Mad Men" I remembered that I had indeed eaten plenty in the 50-60's. TGIF refers to it a a 'lettuce wedge' or wedge of lettuce. I've ordered it consistently for almost a year now and it is consistently almost ice-cold, fresher than any I've noticed in grocery markets, dressing blue cheese and bacon is good - and I don't even like blue cheese, nor bacon. Go figure.

                                                                          This, plus a agnus (sp?) burger and fries all for $10. I eat the burger, leave the bun, have a few fries and a salad, so how can that be beat. Plus a free chips and dip if you have a 'stripes' card. Then, if you go to the internet and give a rating on your meal, you will be entitled to a free appetizer, or something else on your next time there. Then you can get points, and DH gets a free dinner steak.

                                                                          I've not had a bad meal here, and it's most always a good value. I stick with a glass of the house wine most times and it's worth more than the $4 they charge.

                                                                          I just can't knock TGIF in any way except the music choice.

                                                                          1. re: Rella

                                                                            FWIW agnus burger (agnus dei?) would be lamb - angus is beef (but I'd be happy with either!)

                                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                                              Who knew the spelling could be so close? Well, anyway, it is a beef burger - a cow. A burger is one of the very few ways I get any B-12, so I go for this almost everytime for that reason.

                                                                              1. re: Rella

                                                                                I claim Angus is the best. some neighbors raise Charolais, which I s'pose is good, but I like our Angus.

                                                                            2. re: Rella

                                                                              It's an appetizer. I tried to find a photo on their website, but they just list the description:

                                                                              Crispy Green Bean Fries

                                                                              Crunchy green bean fries breaded and fried to a golden brown. Our cool and creamy Cucumber-Wasabi Ranch dip adds just a touch of spicy.

                                                                              I actually don't mind chains nearly as much as some on this board do. Sure, it's not going to be as amazing an experience as a good local place, but I don't automatically shy away from chain meals. I just don't do TGIF very often because the one near me is AWFUL. Always crowded, slow and/or rude service, food is never consistent. If I'm going for something along the same lines and we do a chain, we'll do Max and Erma's, Ruby Tuesday's, or Uno's instead.

                                                                              1. re: Ditdah

                                                                                Thank you for the information. I will look for them the next time I go.
                                                                                As for today, I had a wonderful lunch at a non-chain restaurant for a change - went to another town up the highway :-). What a delight it was. The wine I ordered wasn't an expensive wine, but it was out on a cupboard for all to see, the server didn't get ticked at me when I asked where the crab was from; when I asked if I could bring in my thermos of water, she smiled and said of course not, and brought two sparkling clean water glasses to the table; everything was so good that we ordered two desserts (one each) instead of sharing and weren't disappointed. DH even ordered coffee which he doesn't do in a restaurant. Oh, my - if chains were like this!

                                                                2. That TGIF's must be really inflated. I went to happy hour there the other night with some coworkers, and checked the menu to see what sandwich was $17 (I read this thread beforehand). The most expensive sandwich was the french dip at $12. The iced tea with unlimited refills was $2.49. I live in southern CA, in LA.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: boogiebaby

                                                                    Manhattan rents and overhead.......

                                                                  2. I live in Flemington, NJ and this is the land of the chain restaurants. In one small town we have a Sonic, a Cheeburger Cheeburger, Applebee's,Chili's, Long Horn, Bensi's, Bok Bok Fresh, TGIF, plus McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and KFC. And I'm sure I missed a few. It's ridiculous. The food at most of these is terrible, the prices are high for what you are getting, and the food is generally very unhealthy. Yet - almost all of these places are always busy. It astounds me and makes me sad at the same time.

                                                                    We also have a few good to very good restaurants in town - and, at almost any of them, you can get a deliciious lunch, with good service in a very nice atmoshpere for LESS than almost any of those chain restaurants. It's just crazy that people so consistently choose those chains over better quality, local restaurants.

                                                                    And FWIW, we've eaten a few times at TGIF and Applebee's (we don't anymore) and I think they are both completely awful.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: flourgirl

                                                                      Don't you think most of the patrons frequenting the chains are shoppers for the outlet stores? Personally, I do not think most of the restaurants market or advertise themselves very well to the travelers to the area. People are going to choose what they see from the highway. If it were not for nj.com, I wouldn't even know of any privately owned places like....

                                                                      Blue Fish Grill

                                                                      unfortunately, the reviews I have read were less than stellar for all three.

                                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                                        I'm sure many of them are - but I've lived in this town for over 18 years now, and believe me, many many of those patrons are local residents.

                                                                        We rarely eat at any of the three restaurants you mentioned above. We don't eat out that often, I love to cook and it's more affordable to eat at home, but when we do eat out locally, we prefer 55 Main, Aikou, The Blue Bottle (I know it's in Hopewell but it's 15 minutes away), Huarache Azteca, and believe it or not, Tortuga's in Lambertville.

                                                                        Matt's is OK, but I think it's over-rated. I've had too many bad meals at Blue Fish - it's very hit or miss there, and we've had far too many misses, and I haven't been a big fan of Max's restaurants in years. They used to be very good but that was a very long time ago.

                                                                        My point really was that I suspect a lot of people eat at those chain restaurants because they perceive them as being a good deal - and I just don't think that's true at all. It can be very expensive to eat at TGIF's or AppleBee's - and it's a complete waste of money IMHO.

                                                                        1. re: fourunder

                                                                          They rely on word of mouth, which I suppose is why Max's Bistro is closed.

                                                                          A word about image however. Some places could really take a lesson from TGIF on their appearance... you can't just rely on good food and service to attract new customers.