Well it is September 12, 2006 and the scheduled opening date for TGI Friday’s in David. My buddy Jerry and I had set a date to meet and have lunch on the first day. We decided to meet at 11:00 and ignore any concerns about the cost and just have a good time. Jerry said it was a good occasion to celebrate because it was his son’s birthday. So back in the US (you know who you are) “HAPPY BIRTHDAY”!
One of the Type “A” personality traits that I have never been able to break is the need to be early for an appointment. Being late just drives me nuts. So at five minutes before 11:00 I arrived at TGI Friday’s. Jerry, obviously another Type “A” personality, was waiting for me. Of course I had an excuse. I knew there were a couple of photos I would want to take before entering Friday’s.
The banner went up sometime yesterday.
Here are the posted hours of operation. More about that later.
Jerry and I had plenty of time to talk before they opened the doors. This is a new operation and they still have a few bugs to work out, so if you come make sure to load up on an extra helping of patience.
By my watch it was about 11:07 when they said it was ok to enter.
As you refer back to the posted hours, I will tell you that as I entered they told me the kitchen would not open until 12:00, but not to worry.
That was not a problem for Jerry and I as we came to have a relaxed time in a cool restaurant. Besides which I had just taken my second patience tablet. As we entered they were just finishing their rah rah session to pump up the employees to be ready to meet their first official customers (numbers one and two being Jerry and I).
No sooner than Jerry and I had taken our seat, Nadya greeted us. With this friendly smile, how could we help but have a great time!
She handed up out the menus, so lets go through the menu together.
First things first. I haven’t had a good margarita in well over a year. My options were the Ultimate margarita for $7.25 as shown on this page or the TGI Friday’s Regular margarita for $4.50. I ordered the regular margarita. Jerry had a draft beer for $2.50.
Ok, now moving to the appetizers. Jerry and I decided to share an order of Loaded Potato Skins. Tack on another $9.25. I mean you only live once and Jerry and I had agreed we were going to have a good time and the cost be damned.
The soup of the day was beef and vegetable. Neither Jerry nor I ordered soup or a salad.
Now we come to the tough part, the main course. I had convinced myself last night that I would have a burger. However, looking at the menu, there were other temptations. I quickly had my choices down to a Jack Daniel’s Burger, a Sizzlin Fajita Tower, or a Pepperjack Smothered Steak. I chose the Jack Daniel’s Burger and Jerry went for Mushroom Onion Swiss Burger. That is another $6.95 each.
With that behind us I was ready to relax and enjoy my margarita and Jerry his Atlas draft. My margarita was as good as I remembered it in the US.
The bar area was fully supplied and the only thing missing was people to serve.
As time went by, more customers started to enter. Jerry and were commenting on our having a little sticker shock at seeing the prices. I probably had less shock as I had eaten at Tony Roma’s in Panama City recently. But we wondered how the general population would react to prices. While we were pondering this, a smartly dressed young family entered, a Panamanian husband and wife and their three young boys. Jerry commented that he hoped the father had brought plenty of money.
They were seated directly across the room from me in a booth and I couldn’t help but watch. The boys were so excited. They were given special mats and crayons and later they were brought balloons. I watched as the parents studied the menu. Shortly they got up and left without ordering. Jerry has been in the restaurant business and said they really ought to place a menu outside so it could be read before a person entered. He passed that comment on the to the management. It has to be embarrassing for a father to take his family out to a new place only to realize after seeing the menu that he can’t afford to spend over $35 dollars for five burgers. I felt sorry for him and support Jerry’s recommendation to TGI Friday’s management.
Remember I said you need to be patient because this is a new operation and I am sure everything is complex for the staff compared to other restaurants in the Chiriquí area. Several minutes after ordering the burgers, Nadya returned and asked how we would like our meat cooked. I am sure next time she will ask when she takes the order. These are the kind of things you ought to expect especially on the first day of business. Nadya was so cute, I got a kick out of watching her do her best to make us happy.
More time elapses and we were beginning to think we would get the burgers and the potato skins at the same time, when the skins arrived. I took the first skin and asked Jerry to bide his time a little while I took a photo. Jerry and I liked the skins, but I thought there was something missing. Later Jerry said he thought it was the cheese. Jerry and I are used to a sharp cheddar cheese and this was a mild ala longhorn flavored cheese. Maybe it has been too long and they are just like the states, but we thought they need a little more zip.
With one skin to go (Jerry’s – I have always been a fast eater), the burgers arrived. Jerry had been wise and ordered his burger cooked medium. I asked for mine to be three quarters done. Mine came in well done and Jerry’s looked correct. That is not a problem for me. I would rather have it more cooked than less cooked. I never want a burger that is still able to walk off my plate. By the way, the Jack Daniel’s sauce was very good.
My margarita expired and I asked for a glass of water. Nadya was embarrassed to return and tell me that they had a problem and water wasn’t available. Turns out it wasn’t available in the bathrooms either.
At the end of the meal, Jerry and I considered the dessert menu. After a little thought we both concluded that we really couldn’t eat any more, but we decided to order a special coffee. They had specialty coffees for between $3.90 and $4.25. I forget what we ordered, but after about 10 minutes Nayda came back with the sad news that what we ordered, they couldn’t make. She suggested a couple others. We took her suggestion and she sped off. Looking at their well-stocked liquor shelves, it wasn’t because they didn’t have the ingredients, it was because they hadn’t deciphered the drink recipe book. Again, this is nothing but the trials and tribulations of a new inexperienced staff. When the coffee came, I forgot to take its photo. I am still being trained also.
After the jubilado discounts for Jerry and I, la cuenta came out to a little over $36.00. We left $20 each. So lets reflect a little on our experience.
First, Jerry and I had a great time. We enjoyed seeing the employees step up to the challenge of a different type of restaurant, which is obviously catering to an upper income portion of Panama in David and to foreigners that have moved here or vacationers. They want to do a good job. One of the senior managers came over to the table incase we needed assistance because she spoke English. She was surprised that Jerry, Nadya and I had things well in hand in Español. Everyone employed in TGI Friday’s that I saw today, presented a good work ethic and represented the company well.
Second, the prices are going to be pushing the limit I think for David. While the food is very good, a Panamanian earning $8.00 a day is not going to be bringing his family here. For that reason I think TGI Friday’s should put a menu outside. I didn’t like to see a father embarrassed and have to take his three sons home, without eating, after they had been so excited.
Third, if you are coming to Friday’s be prepared for a very cool environment. One lady had to leave and I was surprised to see her return with a sweater. Not many people carry sweaters around in their car in David. She must have been from Boquete.
Forth, I personally thought the music was far too loud. Maybe on a Friday night when the restaurant is packed I might not have noticed it, but today Jerry and I felt like we were shouting to make ourselves heard.
Now I have been there and done that. Maybe once a month or two I can handle and American meal attached to an American price, but for the most part I have become accustomed to Panama food and Panama prices. I feel like there is enough people in the Chiriqui area that will go to Friday’s for it to make a go of it. David, Boquete and other areas in Chiriquí are attracting foreigners who may not even care about the price. Add to that the upper income Panamanians who will want a change in menu every now and then. Then a certain number of the young will spend all they have to impress a girl once in a while. I am sure that Friday’s did their business analysis before choosing to build and obviously Plaza El Terronal is drawing a higher income client base.
Welcome TGI Friday’s. It is good to have you in David.
Oh, and those of you reading this in the US, I would be interested in how the Panama Friday’s prices are compared to the US Friday’s prices.