Undercover Boss is back with a brand-new episode this Friday night at 9:00 PM ET/PT and what better man to kick off show’s return to Friday nights than the CEO of TGI Fridays, Ray Blanchette. In this week’s episode Blanchette will go undercover at several different locations for a first hand look at how his employee’s are earning their red and white stripes.
CBS’ Matt Weiss spoke to Blanchette ahead of Friday night’s episode to discuss his background with the company, his biggest takeaways and the daily two hour transformation from CEO to burger chef.
MW: Good morning, nice to talk to you Ray. How’s everything been going?
RB: So far, so good.
MW: Happy to hear. Here to talk today about Undercover Boss and before we get into the actual episode I’m just curious how did you get in contact with the show and what was your motivation for wanting to be on the show in the first place?
RB: I think the producers reached out to our marketing team. I don’t know the exact cadence, chicken or egg. I’m pretty sure they reached out to us, the marketing team came to me and said, ‘hey, any interest in doing it?’ and I was like, yeah actually. I was really interested to be perfectly candid.
It was an opportunity to go into the restaurants when we had just repurchased bunch of franchised restaurants. So, I thought, what better way to kind of get off to a running start then to get an honest unvarnished assessment of the business.
MW: When it came time to go undercover and put your disguise on, what was that process like? How long did it take? Did you hate it?
RB: [Laughs] First of all, my makeup artist was awesome, she was great, she was patient and kind. Me being someone that’s not used to any of that, I’m sure it was a challenge for her. It took a couple hours each morning just to get all the gear on, the facial hair, the wigs, and all that age to my face.
They did all kinds of things to sort of protect the identity, which was just cool. It was about two hours each morning and then another 45 minutes at night to get it back off. She had her whole system down, they know what they’re doing, they’re professionals.
MW: How good did it feel once it was finally off at the end of the day?
RB: Oh my gosh. When she got that thing off my face…I can still feel what that felt like. There is hot compresses, it’s almost like a little spa treatment at the end of the day.
MW: [Laughs] makes the two hours all worth it. So, outside of the physical toil of getting the makeup put on, what was the most challenging part of being undercover?
RB: Probably keeping your mouth shut. I grew up in kitchens in Fridays in Philly and when I see things, your natural reaction is sort of go coach and teach. Then you got to kind of step back and act like you don’t know what you’re doing. That was sometimes hard. You kind of trip yourself up a little bit.
Also just being in my restaurant and not being myself in my restaurants. Typically if I go into a TGI Friday’s, I’m giving out gold stars, talking with team members, and learning as much as I can. In that situation, when I go in as CEO, I’m only able to learn what they’re willing to tell me. When you go in undercover and they have absolutely no idea who you truly are, then you can learn things that they wouldn’t tell a CEO.
MW: Were there any moments where, as you said you were trying to keep back your advice, so were there any moments where someone was like ‘hey kid let me tell you how to do this’ and you kind of laugh to yourself that they’re explaining the process to you?
RB: Oh constantly. I was working with a guy in Philly in the kitchen which for me was like going home. It felt really comfortable, very natural. It was a restaurant that I had known for 30 years and I’m playing the stooge and I’ve got to act like I don’t know what I’m doing.
MW: You mentioned you were in Philly, but you went to a couple different locations for the show. Did you notice any similarities between all of them?
RB: I noticed some things were similar. It was pretty cool to see how the Friday culture infects both in Arlington, TX similar to the way the it infects folks in Brooklyn, NY. When we talk about sort of our inclusion statement, we’re for people of all stripes.
We got red and white stripes that are us. We talk a lot about people of all stripes, which reminds us – you be you. We want you to bring your full personality to work, we don’t want you to hide any parts of who you are.
At TGI Fridays you’re welcome here, you belong here. I got to work with folks from all different walks of life in our restaurants with completely different backstories, but we have that sort of common ground. The fact that we all bleed red and white is our common ground.
MW: Last question here before I let you go. What are you going to take away from this experience most of all?
RB: I think what I’m taking away most of all is that somebody may look happy and they may bring a lot of passion to their job, a lot of enthusiasm be a terrific employee, and still be dealing with some really heavy stuff. You can’t judge a book by its cover. You don’t know. If you haven’t walked in someone’s shoes, you can’t judge them. It was so painfully obvious as we were going around and I was hearing some of these backstories. It’s impossible to not be affected by that.
MW: Yeah, be kind to everyone, you never know what someone else is going through.
RB: You just don’t know.
MW: Awesome. Well thank you so much Ray, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Looking forward to the episodes and all the best. Stay safe!PT
RB: Great, thanks, you too.
Undercover Boss is back with an all-new episode Friday, October 2nd at 9:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS and streaming on CBS All Access. Check your local listings for more information.