Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Friendly's: Ice Cream Saves Otherwise Average Americana From Obscurity!

The Good: Ice cream, Some good deals occasionally, Good service
The Bad: Non-dessert foods are underwhelming, Family atmosphere creeps me out (kids everywhere!)
The Basics: Generally disappointing as a restaurant, Friendly’s excels as a chain of ice cream stands/dessert experiences that are good enough to stop for!

Virtually every chain restaurant has a gimmick. It is what separates restaurants and insures some potential for survival in an exceptionally crowded marketplace. Having had my latest meal at Friendly’s, all I can honestly say about the chain is that the ice cream is what has allowed it to survive. In fact, were it not for the ice cream section of Friendly’s, the chain would just be a Denny’s knock-off with fewer locations around the country.

As it stands, Friendly’s is a family restaurant which squeezes into the same essential niche as Denny’s by offering ice cream and desserts as the highlight of the dining experience. Think Denny’s with a Baskin Robbins inside. The food is pretty bland and generic, but the ice cream makes the experience special or at least memorable. Indeed, the reward for many a band concert for me back in middle and high school (I loathed playing clarinet, but my godmother loved that I continued to play) was a trip to Friendly’s afterward where I was allowed to get as big a sundae as I could eat. I always got the five-scoop sundae and I always finished it! Memories like that count for something. Now, however, as a reviewer and an adult, the restaurant does not fare quite so well for the cuisine, but it is still a memorable place to eat for the desserts and that’s just enough to recommend it for.


Friendly's restaurants are located throughout the northeast and eastern seaboard of the United States. As one who travels a lot, I seem to find them all along the east coast, but not much farther west than Indiana. Their website is focused on franchises in New York down to Florida, but nothing farther west than Ohio. Given that the chain is based out of Massachusetts, this is no surprise. Friendly’s is often found in free-standing locations near strip malls or shopping centers and occasionally within mall settings.

Friendly's tends to be organized like old diners with a soda fountain feel near the front and tables and booths arranged around. The entire restaurant has a neutral, family friendly atmosphere and there is a corporate-consistency to the chain. Friendly's , outside the ice cream window, is a sit-down restaurant where customers are waited on by their server, who seats them.

Friendly's tends to be modestly decorated. They usually have tables and mildly uncomfortable booths. The walls tend to be decorated with hotel-style artwork, a kind of bland, safe art that puts just enough on the wall to create conversation pieces.


Friendly's uses traditional waiters or waitresses. By and large the waitstaff at most Friendly’s restaurants I have been to in recent years have been staffed by senior citizens and older staff in their late twenties. Unlike a place like Denny’s, where I have a tendency of running into former students of mine, Friendly’s seems to be staffed by more mature waitstaff and populated more consistently by families. The former is not a drawback for me as I tend to get courteous service (in fact, I have never had a bad server at Friendly’s), but the latter usually leaves me surrounded by more children than I am comfortable with. Unlike Denny’s, which is open 24 hours, Friendly’s tends to cater to the family crowd and as a result there are almost always children and families there. My server’s tip is usually determined by how literally they interpret my statement, “Please seat us as far away from the children as possible.”


Friendly's is American fast food, so the cuisine is prepared relatively quickly, mostly deep fried and honestly is nothing I spend too much time on. The last twenty trips to Friendly’s found me eating only the ice cream. However, on the last trip I took there, I had a chicken quesadilla in order to be able to write about something on the menu with some credibility. The truth is, though I never had a chicken quesadilla at Friendly’s before then, eating it brought back memories of every single menu item I ever had at Friendly’s when I was a kid.

The reason for that is rather simple: the chicken quesadilla was soggy, coated in a light film of margarine (I hope it was margarine) and was served pleasantly hot. The chicken quesadilla features grilled chicken breast strips and hot Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses grilled into a burrito shell. This is then cut into segments and offered on a plate with somewhat soggy lettuce and a little container of salsa. The quesadilla tasted fine, though the Monterey Jack cheese was hardly flavorful and the cheddar was clearly a very mild cheddar (not the extra extra sharp I make my quesadillas with at home). At best, the quesadilla was average and as a result, I felt it was overpriced at $8.50.

But the ice cream saves the Friendly’s experience. Friendly’s has pretty amazing ice cream which is flavorful, creamy and always cold. Every year, they give away free ice cream cones and for those willing to travel around, that’s one pretty wonderful day of free ice cream! Friendly’s has over thirty flavors if ice cream and sherbet from the mundane (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry) to the exciting (Vienna Mocha Chunk, Hunka Hunka PB Fudge, etc.) and they are all good.

Friendly’s capitalizes on their ice cream selection through their sundae selection. The chain has standard sundaes (Royal Banana Split, the Reese’s Pieces Sundae) or the freedom to assemble one’s own sundae from the menu choices. So, for example, if one wants the Jim Dandy – five scoops of ice cream topped with strawberry, marshmallow and chocolate syrups, with a banana, sprinkles, walnuts and whipped cream – all they have to do is select the ice cream flavors they want in it (all five scoops can be different flavors!). Or, you can define your own sundae starting with the number of scoops from three scoops to twelve (they go for pleasing groups!) and then choices from two to six toppings, toppings consisting of sauces and candy bits like sprinkles, broken Butterfinger pieces, etc. This can be a culinary experience that ranges from the bland to the surprisingly exciting. Indeed, it was at Friendly’s as a kid that I opened up to trying new things by mixing and matching flavors (butterscotch is good on almost everything, even the flavors one might not expect!).


If you’re looking for a family restaurant, Friendly’s fits the bill, but the only real reason to go there is the ice cream. The food is mundane and has a mass produced American diner taste to it, but the ice cream selection is amazing and worth stopping for.

For other restaurants, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Johnny Rockets
Little Caesars Pizza


For other restaurant reviews, please visit my index page for food and drink reviews by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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