TGI Friday’s uses layered recognition strategies to improve staff retention and wellbeing

TGI Friday's

American-themed casual dining chain TGI Friday’s uses a sophisticated, multi-layered approach to recognition to bolster retention and improve the wellbeing of its 5,250 UK-based employees, who operate across 88 national restaurants as well as a main support centre.

Jacqui McManus, culture and people development director at TGI Friday’s, explains: “That’s really our culture. [Different forms of recognition are] important because people have different needs. One of the things we spend a lot of time on is trying to make it much more personal.”

The three core pillars of the recognition culture at TGI Friday’s are badge-style pins, which align with organisational values and staff career development, prize-based scratch cards called Heartbeats, and a Legends programme, designed to celebrate unsung heroes.

Awarding recognition

TGI Friday’s introduced scratch cards approximately nine years ago, and the programme underwent a rebrand in March 2018, which included naming it Heartbeats, to emphasise the valuable role it plays within the organisation’s culture. Up to 60,000 Heartbeats are awarded every year.

There are three levels to Heartbeats: blue, which is a peer-to-peer awarded scratch card; red, which is given to employees by managers; and gold, which staff receive from general managers or directors.

The peer-to-peer cards were introduced in March 2018 as part of the wider rebrand. “Our team was saying [that] it’s great that [the] managers recognise [staff], but [the] culture [is] about recognising each other and rewarding each other,” McManus explains

The scratch cards provide space for employees, management or even customers to write why they want to recognise an individual, while the red and gold tiers also include a scratch-away section that reveals a prize. At the red level, employees can win a paid half-day off work, a £25 food and drink voucher or a team event, such as bowling. Staff that receive a gold scratch card may receive a paid day off, a night away, a larger team event or a £50 food and drink voucher.

The prizes are updated annually, based on feedback from employee focus groups. These are conducted twice a year with around 15 employees from across the business. The ideas from the focus groups are then approved by an additional 150 staff members.

Aligning values

Alongside Heartbeats, TGI Friday’s has used pins since the business’ inception, to be worn on an individual’s uniform as a method of publicly recognising staff. “Heartbeats and pins: we classify [these] as our DNA [for] recognition and reward,” McManus says.

TGI Friday’s has four pins related to its organisational values of pride, passion, personality and protection. There are also pins for every training level, for example when an employee qualifies as a bartender, and each restaurant and region also has its own pin design.

Staff can collect pins based on tenure and achievements, or award them as peer-to-peer acknowledgements.

There are around 100 unique restaurant and regional pins, as well as 40 other pin types, says McManus. “They are badges of honour for when people have done a great job,” she adds. “It isn’t just a pin, it has meaning behind it.”

On average, 60,000 pins are awarded each year, of which about 30,000 relate to the organisation’s values.

Celebrating success

The final prong of the TGI Friday’s approach to recognition is its Legends programme, which has been in operation for nine years, and allows employees to nominate individuals they feel are unsung heroes.

The programme launches each August, and by September has typically received at least 4,000 comments, highlighting around 1,000 staff members.

Management then narrows this down to 130 individuals, who are rewarded with an employer-paid event hosted by the executive team, which includes food, drink and a night in a five-star hotel. The next event will be held in February 2020 in Liverpool.

TGI Friday’s also runs a bonus initiative, The Buzz Challenge. This uses a score-based system to measure the positive atmosphere at each restaurant during three key periods throughout the year. The team that achieves the largest score increase in its region receives an employer-paid event, while the restaurant with the highest overall increase in the UK gains an extra week’s wages.

At year end, teams at the five restaurants with the highest buzz scores receive further bonuses. TGI Friday’s has invested £250,000 into this initiative for 2019.


In addition to the various team events used to celebrate successes, TGI Friday’s holds breakfast events on 4 July and Thanksgiving in November, hosted by managers for employees and their families. All UK stores run these events, and around 4,400 individuals attend.

It is at the Thanksgiving breakfast that employees find out if they have been identified as a Legend.

A fundamental element of recognition is that it is physical and actively presented to staff, says McManus. “I’ve looked at having it on an app, but I want the sentiment of someone looking at them and [telling] them why they’re getting this, why they’re important to us, why we value what they do. I can’t do that on an app, I have to do it face-to-face.”

Proactive mental health

Although recognition is a core focus, TGI Friday’s is also developing and expanding its overall reward offering. For 2019, this means taking a proactive stance to mental health support.

With this in mind, the organisation introduced a sector-specific employee assistance programme (EAP), provided by the charity Hospitality Action, in May 2018. Through this, employees are able to access face-to-face counselling and hardship loans, in addition to a 24/7 telephone line.

“The depth of our [EAP] is one of the most powerful [benefits],” McManus says. “When people need it, it is absolutely fantastic.”

The organisation is also developing internal mental health first aid training for managers, to be launched in September 2019, as part of a preventative approach: “We’ve got a great tool for once [employees have] a problem, but we’ve got to get better at identifying it,” says McManus.

A layered approach

This focus on mental health and staff wellbeing is a strand of the organisation’s wider benefits strategy, which adopts a three-pronged approach, covering financial concerns, the need to care for staff, and enjoyment and recognition.

“We’re a brand that focuses on really having fun and being open and inclusive. Our philosophy is to ensure that our benefits are rewarding to every age group that we employ, but they must [also] show that we care and support them,” McManus explains.

TGI Friday’s is in the process of developing Engage, an internal social media and communications app. Designed to be a one-stop-shop of information, it will feature three sections: Friday’s Work, presenting details on rotas and holiday pay, for example; Friday’s Play, sharing event details and winners’ announcements, as well as surveys and polls; and Friday’s Learn, detailing job specifics, learning modules and new menu information.

Employee feedback is influencing Engage’s design, which McManus predicts will be launched in January 2020. “We had a meeting and there were four managers and about eight team members and we said ‘how do you want this to work?’ and they shaped it for us.” McManus says.

Currently, TGI Friday’s communicates to employees using shift meetings, letters, on-site posters and via the organisation’s Academy app, which houses benefits information and its handbook.

Reaping rewards

As at July 2019, the organisation’s employee turnover stood at around 50%, and its retention rate between 60% and 65%. Its January 2019 staff survey, which received around 3,000 responses, found that 81% of employees feel their work is fun and that they are valued, while 87% would recommend working for the organisation.

“Our retention is good and our [turnover is] low because all these little elements, these layers, really add up,” says McManus. “Our team understand that we show we care and we’ll support them. The culture is all encompassing. Retention of our team and our team having [the] ability to give the guests the experience is fundamental to our brand.

“Our ethos is being better tomorrow than [we] are today: small improvements, making it a little bit better, enhancing what we’re giving [staff], tweaking it. It’s a step every day.”

At a glance

TGI Friday’s is an American-themed casual dining restaurant chain, which employs between 5,100 and 5,250 staff, including approximately 430 managers, across 88 UK-based restaurants and a central support centre, which houses 45 employees. Each restaurant has approximately 62 staff members, including five managers.

Front-of-house roles at TGI Friday’s include door hosts, serve assistants, bartenders and waiting staff. Those employed back of house act as dish washers, cleaners or chefs. TGI Friday’s also has three levels of management: the first includes junior managers, assistant kitchen managers and assistant restaurant managers, the next level is restaurant and kitchen managers, while the highest restaurant-based management level is general manager.

TGI Friday’s workforce is 48% male and 52% female, with an average age of 26. Team members have an average tenure of two and a half years, while managers typically remain with the business between six and a half to seven years.

Business objective impacting benefits

  • To focus on the continuation of the internal Buzz Challenge.

Jacqui-McManusCareer history

Jacqui McManus, culture and people development director, joined TGI Friday’s in May 2008 as director of operations, before moving into her current role in January 2013.

McManus has a wealth of experience in the food and drink sector, specifically, having enjoyed a 14-year tenure as operations business manager at pub, bar and restaurant operator Mitchells and Butlers.

When describing her proudest career achievement, McManus cites TGI Friday’s first-place ranking in The Sunday Times’ Best big companies to work for list, published in March 2015. “The reason that was so pivotal was because it was our team that chose us, it was our team that said we were great,” McManus explains. “I’m proud of how we operate, how we look after our team and then having that recognition as a brand.”