Desperate Measures: Olive Garden Revamps Menu as Investors Get Pushy
Olive Garden announced yesterday what it calls “the most significant evolution in the restaurant’s history,” adding 20 menu items and new customization options. However, it remains to be seen if the revamp will be enough to appease the chain’s parent company’s investors.
New menu items include small plates, lighter Italian fare and a “Cucina Mia” section, where diners create their own entrée from a variety of pastas and sauces. Olive Garden is also upping their lunch offerings and enhancing service to allow for a quicker midday meal.
Olive Garden has been tweaking its menu over the last year, as its parent company, Darden Restaurants, has struggled to find the best way to deal with the underperforming chain. Currently, Darden is attempting to increase sales at Olive Garden through adjustments such as the menu revamp. Investors, however, want the chain to take more drastic measures, including spinning off Olive Garden along with Red Lobster.
Darden Restaurants announced in December that it planned to shed Red Lobster, following ongoing disappointing sales. Since that time, investors have demanded that Darden do more to separate itself from not only Red Lobster but also its struggling sister-chain Olive Garden.
Earlier this week, hedge fund Starboard Value LP launched a plan in which shareholders would vote on a resolution telling Darden to halt plans to shed Red Lobster unless investors get a direct vote on the decision. Starboard has been pushing Darden to not only spin off the Red Lobster chain, but also consider more complete separation between low-performing mainstream casual dining restaurants such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse and Darden’s niche high-end growth restaurants.