“Italian Generosity” Means Olive Garden Will Give You As Many Breadsticks As It Wants – Thank You Very Much

The first thing to come to mind when I think of Olive Garden isn’t pasta, it’s breadsticks. Baskets of free, buttery bread – I mean they are practically the cornerstone of the restaurant. So when an investor to the company proposed the idea that maybe the O.G. shouldn’t so willingly, or liberally hand out the carb-filled sticks, we were a little shocked. But fear not, the restaurant wants customers to know that they can still have as many free sticks as they want, because, you know, “Italian generosity” is a thing.

Darden Restaurants Inc., the parent company of Olive Garden, responded to hedge fund Starboard Value’s 300-page critique Monday with its own 24-page analysis that includes defending the policy of giving customers as many breadsticks as they can shove down their throats, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The company says that “Olive Garden’s salad and breadsticks have been an icon of brand equity since 1982” and that passing out the free baskets of dough conveys “Italian generosity.”

The response seems to be a direct rebuttal to Starboard’s assertion that Olive Garden lacks Italian heritage because of recent decisions that include adding tapas and hamburgers to the menu.

In the original criticism, Starboard said Olive Garden servers regularly stray from the policy of providing one breadstick per diner, plus an extra for the table.

The investor said that poorly trained and undisciplined servers often bring out more bread than is needed which leads to the bread going cold and uneaten.

Breadsticks weren’t the only freebie criticized by Starboard, which is trying to gain control of the Darden board of directors. The investor’s say employees overfill salad bowls and use too much dressing – both issues they say drive up costs for the already sluggish restaurant.

Darden, which is struggling to boost sales, says many of the investor’s critiques have already been addressed and are currently being fixed.

As for the not-so-Italian menu, Darden say it plans to find a balance between the old and new menu items, but noted that millennials have expressed their approval of the expanded offerings.

Darden, Starboard Tussle Over Dough [The Wall Street Journal]

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