Karen Forrester is to step down as chief executive of casual dining brand TGI Fridays on 13 December.
Taking over the position will be Robert Cook, who will join the company on 2 December from Virgin Active, where he has held the position of UK chief executive since 2016. The appointment will mark a return to the hospitality sector for Cook who played a major role in the development of lifestyle hotels in the UK, initially as chief executive of Malmaison and Hotel du Vin for nine years before becoming chief executive of De Vere Hotels Resorts and Village Urban Resorts, and then chief operating officer at Macdonald Hotels and Resorts.
Forrester, who was last year ranked 41 in The Caterer’s 100 most powerful people in hospitality, joined the group 12 years ago and is widely credited with turning it around.
She did away with the tired image of the restaurants, which she described as "childish and clown-like", introducing leather seating, open kitchens and oak floors.
Also seen as one of the most team-focused leaders in the sector she spread employee enthusiasm through the Fridays Academy, where new recruits are trained and existing team members retrained, an approach that saw TGI Fridays named the top big company in The Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For in 2015.
Forrester said: “It has been an unbelievable honour and privilege to have led the magnificent TGI Fridays UK family over the last 12 years. It was an incredibly hard decision to hang up my stripes, but I’m excited to be handing over to new CEO Robert Cook, who will steer the company on the next stage of its epic journey.
“There are so many things about my journey I am proud of. From winning back our stripes, getting into the Guinness Book of Records, to topping The Sunday Times Best Companies listing as the best big company to work for in 2015. I’m leaving a business which is strong and healthy. In the last few years we’ve opened a raft of new restaurants, welcomed thousands more Friday family members and served millions of satisfied guests. This year profits and sales have grown and led to some brilliant guest experience scores.
“I would like to thank every single family member who has helped to make it the brilliant company it is today and want to wish Robert every success as he takes the helm. I look forward to the team creating new milestones, breaking new records, winning new awards and going from strength to strength as it enters this exciting next phase.”
TGI Fridays reported total sales of £208.8m in 2018, down from £216m the previous year. Pre-tax profits for the year stood at £3.7m.