Hold the Fribble: US chain Friendly’s files for bankruptcy

The sit-down US restaurant chain is famous for its Fribble milkshakes but has struggled to adapt to a new take-out and drive-through landscape during the pandemic.

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has hit the US restaurant industry hard, particularly chains like Friendly's that have relied on sit-down dining versus take-out [File: Pat Wellenbach/AP Photo]

Friendly’s Restaurants, the 85-year-old dining chain known for its Fribble milkshakes and ice cream sundaes along the United States East Coast, is filing for bankruptcy protection.

It joins a growing list of well-established restaurant chains that are failing due to the unchecked COVID-19 pandemic in the US.

George Michel, CEO of FIC Restaurants Inc, Friendly’s parent company, said COVID-19 has had a “catastrophic impact” on operations. FIC will sell essentially all of its assets to the restaurant company Amici Partners Group.

All 130 Friendly’s locations, which stretch from Maine to Florida, will remain open while the chain restructures under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the company said late Sunday.

The pandemic has hit the restaurant sector very hard, particularly chains like Friendly’s that rely on people sitting down at tables. At least 10 chains have filed for bankruptcy protection since the pandemic began this year.

Traffic at full-service restaurant chains in the US plummeted 48 percent in the April to June period, according to NPD Group. Visits were down 25 percent in the June to September period, as restrictions were eased in some parts of the country.

However, infections are surging again as colder weather arrives and industry analysts are assembling lists of larger chain restaurants most at risk of failure.

Friendly’s, like most other chains that have stumbled this year, had already been struggling as its customer base aged and competition increased. In the pandemic, it became increasingly difficult to compete with chains that already relied on carryout and drive-through orders, such as Dairy Queen.

Friendly’s has closed hundreds of locations during the past decade. The Wilbraham, Massachusetts, company filed for bankruptcy protection before, in 2011.

Michel said Friendly’s had been trying to grow its carryout and delivery business and revamp its menu when the pandemic hit.

Other restaurant chains that have filed for bankruptcy protection this year include the US arm of Le Pain Quotidien and CEC Entertainment, the parent company of Chuck E. Cheese, California Pizza Kitchen, Sizzler and Ruby Tuesday.

Source: AP