IFMA's Prestigious Gold Plate Award Goes to Leadership Legend

IFMA's Prestigious Gold Plate Award Goes to Leadership Legend

Every year, the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) holds their Gold & Silver Plate awards ceremony; a celebration of some of our industry’s most influential and successful minds. From chain restaurants to retail, to schools, the foodservice industry puts forth its best and brightest with up to 9 professionals receiving a Silver Plate award.

This year’s winners are an inspirational bunch:

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3 Branding Lessons From Olive Garden’s Recent Turnaround

3 Branding Lessons From Olive Garden’s Recent Turnaround

By Jessica Bryant, Managing Editor

The land of breadsticks hasn’t always been so hot. For the past few years, Olive Garden’s sales have seriously slumped — until recently, that is. This isn’t good news for just Darden Restaurants, the group that owns Olive Garden, but for the casual dining segment in general. 

(Check out our article on “The Downfall of Romano’s and How Casual Dining Can Be Saved” here.)

The fast-growing fast-casual segment, alongside the benefits of what put fast-casual on top  — like demand for on-the-go dining, high-quality ingredients, and more affordable prices — has played a huge part in casual dining’s declining sales. And while Olive Garden isn’t expected to grow in foot traffic in 2016, it seems to have found its footing, at least for now.

Last month, at the end of June, Darden Restaurants, which has a new management team, experienced a surge in stock (up 4%) alongside a larger-than-expected growth in sales and profits. Starboard Value Partners, an investment firm that took a stake in the company in late 2013, seems to have played a big role in helping to recover the brand. After all, Olive Garden accounts for more than half (56%) of Darden’s total sales.

So, how did Olive Garden manage to turn itself around? It comes from a combination of things.

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Olive Garden Upping Guest Convenience with Web Check-in Seating

RESTAURANT FRONT  | OLIVE GARDEN

RESTAURANT FRONT | OLIVE GARDEN

Olive Garden, with its family-friendly casual dining experience, is a popular brand. Its peak nights pack the restaurant so much so on Fridays and Saturdays that in some locations, wait times can extend beyond an hour. Guests usually are required to wait on site for tables, and frustration often stems from the fact this chain does not take reservations. 

"Often consumers think of the line, and it's a deterrent to going to the restaurant," said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic.

How is Olive Garden rising to this customer-service challenge? While the brand isn't moving forward with reservation-taking, it is testing a plan to let customers to call ahead or check in online to get on waiting lists.

The program allows guests to either dial up or go on the Web to check on wait times and add their names to the list. Guests who call ahead can receive a text message once their tables are ready. These methods don't work exactly like reservations, as customers won't have a table held for them, will be skipped if they're not present when the seater is looking for them, and will have to wait about the same time they would have if they were on site, but at least they will be able to wait while taking care of other errands.

Olive Garden began testing the call ahead and online check-in idea the second week of March in 13 Central Florida locations.

"We want to extend a level of convenience for our guests," said Rich Jeffers, Darden Restaurants spokesperson.

Olive Garden is not the first to attempt this. Outback offers it, while Red Lobster tried a similar program. Will this be the new trend in the industry? Read More

Can Olive Garden Make a Come Back?

Are consumers no longer craving Olive Garden's famous breadsticks? Casual dining segment as a whole is taking a major hit due to the emerging fast casual brands and this is certainly the case with Olive Garden. The chain's parent company Darden Restaurants owns several casual dining brands, but Olive Garden is the core brand.

However, industry experts feel as though there is still hope for this brand mogul if it can improve by appealing to millennials by offering fresh, healthier and more customizable menu offerings and undergo a complete brand makeover. Read more here about what else experts are saying that Olive Garden needs to change to survive in the market. Do you think Olive Garden can make a comeback? 

Olive Garden Focuses on More Rebranding as Same-Store Sales Continue to Decline

Olive Garden is learning the hard way that it’s not all breadsticks and salad. The Darden concept has been facing a downturn in same-store sales, and continues to decline — 3.4 percent in the past year (ending May 25th), to be exact. As part of its ongoing brand transformation, which clearly has seen more misses than hits, Olive Garden will now focus on takeout, speedier service, and smaller portions in its lunch menu.

The brand has seen several shifts in the past year alone, including a restructured menu (in December 2013, OG rolled out an Italiano Burger, an Italian take on the American classic, in hopes to latch onto the success of the Better Burger segment) and a new logo (though, according to Business Insider, it was a flop). Read More