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Olive Garden Tries To Win Back Customers

Souirce: Williamhartz via flickr

Hoping to shore up it’s bottom line, Darden-owned Olive Garden is trying to win back former customers.

It is a major challenge for Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster and other brands.

Americans are eating out less but demanding more at a lower cost when they do. And in a sea of new and tougher competition, some restaurant and brand experts say Olive Garden seems to have lost its way.

The problem – say food and restaurant critics – is that the Italian-inspired restaurant seems to have lost it’s focus.

What does Olive Garden stand for now? I don’t know what it stands for,” said Chris Muller, dean of Boston University’s hospitality school and a former University of Central Florida restaurant professor.

Mark Athridge, a financial counselor who lives in Casselberry, was more blunt. He used to eat regularly at the Olive Garden but not anymore.

“They pour subpar wine and play Dean Martin music and call it an Italian restaurant,” said Athridge, 32. On the rare occasions he visits now, “it feels like the same thing all over again.”

Changes will be noticeable – at least that’s what Florida-based Darden Restaurants hopes.

To improve sales, Olive Garden will remodel restaurants and revamp the menu, adding lower-priced dishes. Its long-running ads with actors portraying perky families will get replaced, with an as-yet undisclosed new campaign.

Company officials are hopeful;  Darden has done a similar make-over before.

Darden, Orlando’s only Fortune 500 company, has turned around its big brands before. Most recently, it boosted sagging sales at Red Lobster after giving its restaurants, menu and ad campaign a makeover.

And Darden reinvented the Olive Garden in the 1990s, from a floundering chain into an industry star.

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