Olive Garden Is Betting On Healthier Fare To Bring Back Customers

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When you think of Olive Garden, you likely imagine heaps upon heaps of pasta(often covered in a cream sauce) and a neverending march of cheese-dusted breadsticks — essentially, the opposite of health food. But the chain is betting one of its newly revamped lower-calorie pasta dishes will help turn around slumping sales.

As part of a menu overhaul in January meant to highlight lighter fare, Olive Garden changed up its shrimp scampi entree. Since then, the 500-calorie dish has become the best-selling menu item, reports Bloomberg. That’s in comparison to the previous No. 1 title holder, the 1,480-calorie chicken alfredo.

The chain says it wasn’t just trying to cut calories with the revised dish, which includes sautéed shrimp, asparagus, tomatoes, and angel hair pasta.

“We started talking about the flavors first and the taste first,” Jennifer Arguello, Olive Garden’s vice president of brand marketing, told Bloomberg.

And it looks like the change is working in Olive Garden’s favor: The chain’s same-store sales went up by 1.4% last quarter, a much bigger boost than the 0.4% gain analysts predicted. It also beat out its Darden siblings LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille, among others.

This isn’t the first time Olive Garden has pegged its turnaround hopes on a new menu. The chain previously tried to overhaul its offerings in Jan. 2015, prompted by an investor who criticized many things about the chain, including the OG’s predilection for pushing those neverending breadsticks.