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By John Kell
Darden Restaurants, owner of Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden, says its unlimited breadsticks and salad dressings are working out just fine with consumers.
The casual-dining restaurant operator is on the defensive after investor Starboard Value LP last week disclosed a very detailed, nearly 300-page slide presentation that gave details of a potential turnaround plan for Darden’s Olive Garden chain. Among the complaints: Olive Garden was serving too many breadsticks (resulting in food waste), adding too much dressing to its salads, and not serving enough alcohol. Among the most egregious complaints: Starboard lamented Olive Garden wasn’t adding salt to the water used to cook the pasta, asking “How does the largest Italian dining concept in the world not salt the water for pasta?”
Darden fired back this week, saying in a 24-page slide presentation that Starboard’s suggestions are “not based on reality.” Darden said Olive Garden’s breadsticks and salads convey “Italian generosity,” adding that its salads have the highest loyalty rating of any menu item based on the internal satisfaction surveys the company conducts. Darden also says alcohol sales are increasing, while the average check sizes are higher at remodeled locations.