December 24, 2015
Olive Garden continues a comeback
Olive Garden might be the butt of innumerable foodie jokes, but the company isn’t listening. The home of breadsticks and endless bowls of salad has been shouldering most of the load for parent company Darden Restaurants as of late.
Overall Darden earnings easily eclipsed expectations, and, believe it or not, Olive Garden can take most of the credit. And, for the second quarter in a row, Darden raised its fiscal outlook… right, and it announced a new stock buyback plan while also boosting its dividend. Talk about making everyone happy!
Consequently, Darden stock is up nearly 20 percent in 2015. Of course, none of this was really expected.
Back in September 2014, industry watchdogs came down on the flagging eatery with both boots. In a blistering nearly-300-page document, Olive Garden was slammed for doing just about everything wrong. No salt in the pasta water, too much gravy on the food and, the worst sin of all, filling the menu with items that were not, precisely speaking, in any way Italian. In addition, too much of the (not so good) food was being wasted, leading to more lost profits.
Starboard, the force behind the horrific dressing down of, among other things, Olive Garden’s dressing-drenched salad, took over and cleaned house. CEO Clarence Otis vacated his position. COO Gene Lee was promoted and Starboard CEO Jeff Smith took over as company chairman.
That’s when the real changes began. Under Starboard’s leadership, Olive Garden began making changes to address the problems listed in the report. Profits jumped 12 percent, and continue to climb. Slight price increases thinned out the clientele, but that didn’t stop the profits.
Now, aiming for more of the right type of diner, Olive Garden hopes to continue its growth trend. Consumer confidence might not have rebounded quite yet, but, there’s every indication that, should this trend continue, as things get better at Olive Garden, consumer confidence will soon follow.