ROBERT COOK has three decades of experience in the hospitality industry. The chief executive of Hostmore, the parent company of Fridays and 63rd + 1st, sees Glasgow as a key part of the group’s future strategy and believes the city is an attractive location for international brands.

The first TGI Fridays in Scotland opened on Buchanan Street in 1993 and remains a flagship location for the cocktails and food chain.

63rd + 1st has been inspired by the original Fridays in New York, which opened on the corner of 63rd Street and 1st Avenue in 1965 by salesman, Alan Stillman.

Glasgow Times: Pictured: Robert CookPictured: Robert Cook

In 1987, Tom Cruise filmed in the original restaurant and was trained by bartenders for the film Cocktail.

The Glasgow restaurant has a classic Manhattan style, nostalgic prints, small plate menu and cocktails like watermelon and coconut daiquiri, kiwi caipirinha and lychee martini.

READ MORE: From curry to Chinese: Glasgow takeaways nominated in Scottish Takeaway Awards

The Bothwell Street location was among the first to open, soon to be joined by an Edinburgh venue with a pipeline of around 10 new sites on the way.

Aberdonian Robert first came to Glasgow in 1992.

He explained: “In those days you had The Colonial, The Puppet Theatre then later Gordon Ramsay was at One Devonshire Gardens.

“It was a strong restaurant scene. I find it fascinating what has happened in Glasgow around Finnieston and then Six by Nico and places like Partick Duck Club.

“The thing you have in Glasgow is that people are discerning about food. They know what they like. I think if you are a hospitality brand then Glasgow and Edinburgh have to be on your radar.

“I’m not there with 63rd + 1st and Fridays because I’m Scottish, it’s because they are great markets. They’ve got a very educated palette. I would say London is followed by Glasgow in terms of UK cities for hospitality brands.”

Robert was born and brought up in the business – his parents had hotels in Aberdeenshire.

Glasgow Times:

After graduating, he was a manager at The Balmoral when it opened in Edinburgh before working for Stephen Carter at the Moat House in Glasgow.

It was there he met Ken McCulloch, working with him on Malmaison and then moving to Monaco when Ken sold the hotels before Robert helped establish Dakota and then led the conversion of Cameron House.

When he joined Fridays three years ago, he was inspired by consumer research that suggested the group had lost its way in terms of cocktails.

He admitted: “We had people telling us they used to visit TGI Fridays but 20 years on they were looking for different things, so that’s where the idea for 63rd + 1st came in. We started looking for properties. I was approached about the site in Glasgow and I loved the location, the building, the ceiling height, the fact there was a great bar there that would be easy to convert.

“It’s grown well and since face masks have disappeared it has found its own way. Sharing plates have gone down really well and the weekends have been pretty strong since day one. Midweek is beginning to fill up now because of offices being back, which is great.”

Robert explained that Christopher Burns, head chef at 63rd + 1st in Glasgow is the most senior chef in the business.

“He is working with a group chef in developing our menu and I think the Edinburgh restaurant will have a very similar menu to Glasgow.

“The local chefs will have their own opportunity to influence the dishes based on produce available.

“Attracting talent is very hard, it has been difficult with chefs for a long time. We want to let the artist create their own picture in many ways so that’s why we are keen to let a local chef express themselves.

“You’ll know you are coming into a 63rd + 1st, there will be a golden thread that runs through the style and design, there will be the core dishes, but a chef will be able to go out on his own if he has an idea. Our aspiration is to be localised in design and menu influence.”

READ MORE: 'Pints and Gyros in the sunshine': Greek Street food spot opens second location

Expansion plans include looking for new locations in Aberdeen and St Andrews.

Glasgow Times:

Robert said they are also reintroducing the Glasgow restaurant at a time when cocktails and food can be enjoyed without restrictions.

“The drinks offer is pretty wide ranging, the menu is relatively new, we have different spaces and we are starting to see more group bookings coming in so people are finding out what we are all about,” he said.

There’s an ongoing conversation about the nature of work and how much time people will spend in the office. This change in culture will shape the future of weekday evening socialising within the city centre. TGI Fridays is traditionally somewhere that would attract that crowd. I wonder how Robert sees the future of the post-work meet up?

“We are a very social breed,” he said. “We like to meet face-to-face, we like to interact. Whether you are working from home or you are back into the office three days a week or you have gone back to how things were before the pandemic, that is still going to be part of our social life. I think from a well-being point of view, getting back to normality is a good thing.

“We’re beginning to see those nights that people are meeting people after work come back. That’s just the return of the social fabric that we’ve been used to being around for years.

“I think people missed getting dressed up and are happy to be going out and just living again.”