Has Olive Garden Lost Its Way In A Forest Of Breadsticks & Cheap Gimmicks?

We can see it clearly: Olive Garden, alone and afraid, wandering around the the maze of casual dining, not knowing which way to turn, lost in a forest of unlimited, greasy breadsticks, as its sale slide and its customers turn a cold shoulder to their plight. Beyond all that, the chain needs to step up its game again, say industry insiders.

Darden Restaurants owns not only Olive Garden, but Red Lobster and other brands, says the Orlando Sentinel, and is facing the challenge of wooing its customers back after new, tough competition has arrived on the scene. They underwent a refresh in the 1990s and came out on top, but now their act has gone stale, it seems.

This loss of fandom begs some pretty existential questions.

“What does Olive Garden stand for now? I don’t know what it stands for,” Chris Muller, dean of Boston University’s hospitality school and a former University of Central Florida restaurant professor, told the paper.

To put it more directly, as one former customer weighed in: “They pour subpar wine and play Dean Martin music and call it an Italian restaurant.” Zing, ouch, etc.!

Even the bigwigs at Darden know they need to reenergize the brand, as COO Drew Madsen admitted Olive Garden has become “a beloved, but somewhat expected brand.”

One strategy will be to get rid of those ads with families that are just over the goshdarn moon to be lucky enough to eat at Olive Garden. No word on what kind of campaign will replace it, but let’s hope it’s not a couple of sassy galpals gabbing about love, loss, unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks, either.

Olive Garden unveils $12.95 three-course meal [Orlando Sentinel]