My esteemed colleague Rebecca’s coverage of Olive Garden has been second-to-none over the last few weeks. The $100 unlimited pasta pass is the stuff a glutton without standards dreams are made of, even if they went faster than you can say “Feast of Italy.” But there’s bad news a-brewing for those of us who love Olive Garden’s unlimited salad and breadsticks: Their investors are NOT happy, especially as the stock of the restaurant chain’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, continues to under-perform.
In a nearly 300-page treatise on what’s wrong with Olive Garden and its management, investor Starboard Value suggests the Italian restaurant chain is being reckless with its unlimited breadsticks. The hedge fund notes the chain’s official policy is to bring out one breadstick per customer at a time, plus an extra for the table.
But Starboard says servers bring out more than that, leading to waste — and cold breadsticks. Starboard notes that it isn’t pushing for an end to unlimited breadsticks, just more control in how they’re doled out.
“Darden management readily admits that after sitting just 7 minutes, the breadsticks deteriorate in quality,” Starboard said in its presentation.
And other complaints? Well, there’s this:
Yep. That looks like the vomit-inducing chum they call “food” at Olive Garden. At least it’s not that expensive. While we’re on the subject, there’s more bad news from the report, via USA Today:
But Starboard also criticized Darden’s management of Olive Garden, including its “outdated” advertising strategy, which it said focuses too heavily on TV commercials. It also took issue with the chain’s new logo, quoting a tweet by restaurant analyst Howard Penney that said it looked like “a second-grader’s cursive practice.”
Among Starboard’s other complaints were Olive Garden’s failure to salt the water used to boil its pasta, noting that “If you were to google ‘how to cook pasta,’ the first step of Pasta 101 is to salt the water.” It also criticized Olive Garden’s liberal use of salad dressing, which it said drives up costs. And rather than making its soups from scratch, Starboard said Olive Garden should save money and improve consistency by using an outside supplier for the bases.
Starboard also noted Olive Garden gets only 8% of its sales from alcohol, while other Italian restaurant chains get more than twice that.
As for Olive Garden’s popular breadsticks, Starboard said quality seems to have declined and compared them to hot dog buns.
So what the people that are shareholders in the company are really saying here is that Olive Garden, uh, kinda, sorta sucks…. Big time. This is not new news. I think all it takes is one mediocre faux-Italian dinner there to come to that conclusions.
But those breadsticks… Never cut those, please, Olive Garden. It’s the only thing you have going for you.