Things looked up for Olive Garden this week. The company launched an incredibly successful promotion: Never Ending Pasta Passes, which entitled holders to unlimited pasta for seven weeks and sold out immediately. The NEPPs even starred in a short-lived scalping scandal on eBay. But today an unhappy investor published nearly 300 pages detailing what’s still wrong with the Italian-ish chain. In a report titled "Transforming Darden Restaurants" (OG is part of Darden restaurants brand), hedge fund Starboard Value takes Olive Garden to the woodshed. You can read the whole report for yourself, but because we believe in small portion sizes, here is a sampling of complaints.
1. Cooks don’t salt the pasta water.
According to the report, Olive Garden stopped doing this to lengthen the warranty on their pots.
2. Servers need to push more booze.
Olive Garden only earns 8 percent of its money from alcohol sales. Starboard blames this partly on the lagging wine list. There was a time when Olive Garden's wine list earned the brand a mention on Food & Wine’s list of best chain restaurants. But that time is passed. The report also blames servers for not knowing enough about the wine they serve and suggests Olive Garden actually hire sommeliers at some restaurants.
3. Too many breadsticks.
Don’t misunderstand. The report doesn’t recommend ending endless breadsticks. It's a pacing problem. Right now Olive Garden’s signature sticks are just being served in huge piles. Most of those piles end up going to waste because, according to Olive Garden itself, the breadsticks deteriorate in quality after seven minutes .
4. The salads are gross.
Starboard’s research found that the supposedly healthy part of your meal has three to four times the recommended amount of dressing. Considering the size of those salad bowls that might be an entire bottle of vinaigrette.
5. Olive Garden doesn’t serve enough Italian food.
The report longs for the days when the menu included lobster spaghetti and tortellini fizzano instead of the fried lasagna that’s on the menu now. We’re inclined to agree. Fried lasagna seems more Texas State Fair than Tuscan village.
6. The company just wasted a ton of money on a logo.
It will cost an estimated $42 million to outfit every Olive Garden with the new logo. That’s $42 million that could be better spent on lobster spaghetti and sommeliers.