Numbers are down this quarter at Olive Garden and Red Lobster (both owned by Darden Restaurants, Inc.), despite recent jazzy revamps including small plates and lighter menu options. Sales at Olive Garden are down 4%, while Red Lobster is down 5.2%. For some strange reason, people just don't seem to be gobbling breadsticks and bargain basement shellfish like they used to! Needless to say, Darden executives R FREAKIN' OUT.
The shakeup comes as Darden Restaurants Inc. struggles to keep pace with a shifting industry, with more people heading to chains such as Chipotle that offer food perceived to be higher quality at relatively cheaper prices. As traffic has declined at Olive Garden and Red Lobster over the years, Darden has been trying to win back diners with lighter dishes and promotions intended to underscore the affordability of its food.
Olive Garden, for example, recently rolled out "small plates" that can work as appetizers or side dishes. TV ads have ditched the Old World atmosphere of the past in favor of a more upbeat, modern feel. Recent promotions included two dinners for $25 and its long-running Never-Ending Pasta deal.
Despite the moves, sales fell 4 percent at Olive Garden restaurants open at least a year in the latest quarter. The figure was down 5.2 percent at Red Lobster, where the company added more non-seafood options to attract a broader audience. Darden has blamed its troubles on a variety of factors, including more cautious spending by consumers.
Now, I've never been to Olive Garden, but a bowl of mediocre pasta that literally never ends sounds like some Trunchbull shit. Like, if hell is real, there's definitely a little red guy waiting for me with a pitchfork and a bottomless cauldron of fettuccine alfredo toscano parmigiano to punish me eternally for all of my drunken night-Doritos. I did eat at Red Lobster once, and half of my king crab legs were just empty shells, like the meat had shriveled up and disintegrated out of sheer despair. Also, the waitress couldn't tell me why the butter never stopped being liquid. ("I don't know. It comes out of a machine. It gets mixed a lot.")
So here's ONE idea I had: If you want more people to eat at your restaurant, maybe make the food a tiny bit better? Like...serve people crab legs that actually have crab in them? Because it's not like Olive Garden or Red Lobster are even that cheap. They're kind of expensive! Why not just make the food, you know, worth the price?
(Not you, cheddar bay biscuits. You guys are cool.)