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What’s Really Wrong with Olive Garden and Red Lobster?

This past week, Darden Restaurants (NYSE: DRI  ) announced plans to either spin-off or sell Red Lobster from its portfolio of brands. In recent quarters, Darden Restaurants has underperformed industry peers like Bloomin' Brands (NASDAQ: BLMN  ) and The Cheesecake Factory (NASDAQ: CAKE  ) . However, Red Lobster splitting from Olive Garden and the rest of Darden Restaurants doesn't address what's really wrong with the company as a whole.

Credit: Darden Restaurants Annual Report 2013

Darden Restaurants' earnings and spin-off announcement                   Second-quarter earnings for the 2014 fiscal year echoed recent quarters for Darden Restaurants. Earnings-per-share, or EPS, fell 42.3% from the same quarter a year ago, led by same-restaurant sales declines from its biggest brands Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

In contrast, the other six brands that make up Darden Restaurants reported same-restaurant sales increases, with the specialty restaurant group leading the way, which includes The Capital Grille and Seasons 52.

Industry peers Bloomin' Brands and The Cheesecake Factory saw EPS increases of 42.9% and 2%, respectively, in their most recent quarters.

During the conference call, a Red Lobster spin-off or possible sale was announced with the expectation of closing a deal by the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year. However, investment companies like Barington Capital Group have been pushing for a split where Red Lobster and Olive Garden would be one entity and the other six concepts would be another.

Splitting up won't fix Red Lobster and Olive Garden
Businesses that wish to streamline their operations sometimes sell or spin-off less-productive subsidiary businesses. The idea is that the spun-off company is expected to be worth more long-term because the management of the separated company(s) has an incentive since their compensation is connected to bottom-line results.

However, in this case both of Darden Restaurants' biggest restaurant concepts are underperforming. Traffic has been declining for much of the year at both Red Lobster and Olive Garden.

Additionally, Olive Garden, which has historically been described as an Italian restaurant concept, recently added a burger and fries to the menu. This decision may backfire because the $9.99 burger will now be compared with the thousands of other burger varieties customers can find from fast food all the way to fine dining.

Darden Restaurants is at a fork in the road
Whether management follows through by letting Red Lobster go on its own, or if they follow the advice of Barington Capital Group and make both Red Lobster and Olive Garden part of the same spin-off, the real problems are still not being addressed -- lackluster traffic, weaker sales than in years past, and too many restaurant concepts, as shown below:

Darden Restaurants

Bloomin' Brands

The Cheesecake Factory

Olive Garden

Outback Steakhouse

The Cheesecake Factory

Red Lobster

Carrabba's Italian Grill

Grand Lux Café

LongHorn Steakhouse

Bonefish Grill

RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen

The Capital Grille

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine


Bahama Breeze



Eddie V's


Yard House


Seasons 52


Multiple restaurant concepts make focusing on any one brand difficult for management. Supply chain, personnel training, menu changes, and overall company logistics become too complex.

Customer price points are also affected when a restaurant owner has too many brands. During the Darden Restaurants conference call, management stated that they are planning to increase Olive Garden's attractiveness to guests who are not financially constrained via higher price points. This could alienate middle- and lower-income families in the future.

Making matters worse are recent industry trends that show quick-service restaurant visits were up 1% this year, while full-service restaurants haven't seen visit gains in several years.

What happens to Darden Restaurants in 2014?                                                                                                             Consumers are increasingly trading full-service restaurants for fast-casual options. Even without the impact of fast-casual restaurants, the total number of restaurants is now 980,000 in the U.S. This gives customers more options to try new restaurants and leaves major chains spending more on marketing and making improvements.

Credit: Bloomin' Brands Investor Presentation

It is likely that both Bloomin' Brands and The Cheesecake Factory will continue with their successes. Bloomin' Brands has seen net income rise to $153.7 million for the first nine months of 2013, compared to $40.6 million in the same time period of 2012. Likewise, The Cheesecake Factory now has 15 straight quarters of positive comp sales.

In the mean time, Darden Restaurants may see tighter margins as it goes through a transition and makes improvements on its eight restaurant concepts while structuring a spin-off or sale of Red Lobster.

Bottom line                                                                                                               The announced Red Lobster spin-off by Darden Restaurants does not address the company's problems as a whole. The company's ownership of too many concepts has affected the management of each individual concept and hurt overall earnings. While Bloomin' Brands and The Cheesecake Factory also each have several concepts, they are nowhere near the complexity that Darden Restaurants has reached. It is likely that Bloomin' Brands, The Cheesecake Factory, and other major chains will slowly take market share from Darden Restaurants as the latter restructures its business over the next year.

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Read/Post Comments (84) | Recommend This Article (58)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 6:43 PM, nomorenj wrote:

    While only eaten or heard of Longhorn, Red Lobster & Olive Garden, my opinion is mediocre food, plain and simple. I have eaten at each, only once and will not go back to any of them.

    For the money, there are lots of better restaurants a block away, that are not cookie cutter pre portioned, re heated and tasteless

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 6:48 PM, freddiegofaster wrote:

    The problem is Red Lobster does not give a true sea food lover as positive a dining experience as it should for the price. A no-name Maryland crab shack is twice the experience at half the price. And Olive Garden, not exactly a touch of old Napoli there. Unlike buying into watered down quasi-beer, Americans aren't buying into a watered down quasi dining experience.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:15 PM, scoutman wrote:

    we've been brainwashed and doped into thinking that mc donalds<burger king and pizza hut is good all american disgusting fatty good food

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:21 PM, cketter6050 wrote:

    The problem I have found is over use of frozen food and microwave. The paste is usually hard and you practically need a saw to cut the manicotti and canalone. Lot of food was flavorless my kids pizza could be used as a weapon it was so hard again microwaved.

    I find Longhorn interesting and flavorful except that the salad dressings I have tried all taste like mustard.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:25 PM, bobcat0208 wrote:

    Olive Garden's food is HORRIBLE! There's no traffic in the stores because people aren't going to line up to eat garbage. Olive Garden is to Italian Food, what Purina Dog Chow is to steak. God-awful place. The best thing that could happen to Olive Garden is a quiet burial.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:44 PM, 4mikie wrote:

    Sooner or later businesses will learn that keeping their employees healthy by providing wellness and preventative health programs saves them millions off their bottom line. What does healthier employees, less absenteeism and less stress in the workplace mean to businesses? The new un-affordable diseasecare act will do NOTHING to create healthier workplaces. Find a Certified Health Educator to design programs for you before it's too late!

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:45 PM, 4mikie wrote:

    Oh yea...if they would start using WHOLE grain breads and pastas, I might go back!

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 7:57 PM, Gnothead wrote:

    Dear Red Lobster/Olive Garden...

    How about serving a pleasing meal?

    What a concept....

    Too much of the menu is fabricated or appears to be fabricated from an off-site source... Phooey!

    Send you little millenial MBAs out to work in the kitchen or as a member of the wait-staff.

    Then come up with another business plan....

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 8:18 PM, rperonneau wrote:

    You forgot to mention poor food quality. No matter who management is, what the concept is, or what's happening in the industry as a whole a restaurant with poor food quality will not succeed over time. Period.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 8:27 PM, doraglasberg wrote:

    As has been mentioned in the articie omits the pre prepare awful frozen food.

    It's a MEAL, not a concept.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 8:52 PM, DeanaG73 wrote:

    These USED to be good restaurants. However over the past few years the quality and taste of the food has fallen considerably.

    The last time I went to an Olive Garden I had to ask the waitress if the dish I was delivered was the one I ordered as it looked NOTHING like the menu. I didn't lick the menu, but I am sure the photo tasted better than what was on my plate.

    We visited a Red Lobster while out of town. Knowing it was going to cost quite a bit, but thinking it was worth it, boy were we wrong. I have had shrimp at Iver's or Long John Silvers that tasted better.

    Bring back cooked in house foods made from close to scratch and you might get people back in your restaurants! Give up the false advertisements in your menus and show us what we are going to get on our plates.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 8:55 PM, bob8672000 wrote:

    I went inside Red Lobster in Montgomery, Al. twice this year to take my wife out for a dinner date and twice I turned around and walked out the door.

    Why? First as soon as you open the door there is rap music or some squealing non artist repeating the same words over and over being played at 105 decibels, extremely loud, that's not relaxing or enjoyable, second the place looks dingy, stale and old, third the last time we did eat there the fettuccine or pasta and garlic bread was cold and stiffer than a 3 day old corpse.

    No more for Red Lobster for me. The Olive Garden was ok in Montgomery but over priced for for what you receive.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:10 PM, JFS wrote:

    Darden needs to do a lot of work across the board. Best thing at Red Lobster is the cheese biscuits. Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Longhorn all have mediocre food, long waits for that food, poor service, and are overpriced.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:37 PM, CharlesD wrote:

    Unlike many of the other commenters, I have had consistently excellent results at Red Lobsters in Minnesota for many years. If they are franchised, that might explain the varying experiences in this forum.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:38 PM, AnneFranklin wrote:

    You know a restaurant sucks if the best thing an italian restaurant has is salad and breadsticks.Something they didn't cook. Olive garden has the blandest food I have ever wasted money on.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:39 PM, jaybird wrote:

    We went to Olive Garden to try the burger that everyone was reporting...NOT. They don't serve them on weekends! Also how will you split all the duplex Olive Garden/Red Lobster locations? They share the same bar and plumbing?

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:53 PM, hombre66 wrote:

    honestly, we quit eating at all of the Darden rest., especially Red Lobster, why? the food is so lame and portions are tiny.. a friend in Mobile, Alabama , inspector for for FDA , says he inspects containers of shrimp coming into port there for RL (from bangledash) , are refered to as "cockroache cocktails" , 20 -25% roaches.. does that make you ill !!!!! Olive Garden never has been all

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 9:57 PM, strifle wrote:

    Olive garden's is not authentic but it is bland. Nothing worse than unsatisfying calories.

    Red Lobster needs to get serious and start serving a good New York strip with their lobster tail. The steak they're serving now is thin and gristly.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 10:02 PM, strifle wrote:

    They both make you wonder how Denny's, the worst restaurant in the history of man, is still serving.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 10:16 PM, arg wrote:

    Darden restaurants main issue is the management team and Clarence Otis. Recently on CNBC Clarence Otis was named the worst CEO of 2013. Clarence Otis was totally complacent during the changes going on in the restaurant business and you can't be complacent in any business whether you are GM making cars or Kodak in photography.The big problem with Clarence Otis is that he has no business running a restaurant business! He is a lawyer by training and lawyering training and skill sets have no place in the restaurant business! Let give you and example of what I mean. Gregory Wesson is the CEO of Walgreens. His education is in pharmacy and was a Walgreens' pharmacist, successfully managed a Walgreens store and moved through the ranks of Walgreens to becomes CEO. Recently, while the Darden BOD was sleeping at the switch like they usually do, Walgreens made the former outstandingCEO of McDonald's their BOD chairman and bingo, their WAG stock price is at all time highs! People with law degrees like Clarence Otis have skill sets best for human relations departs and such, maybe, I don't know what a JD degree is good for but certainly not running restaurants. Darden has to terminate Clarence Otis as soon as possible and get a leader with skill sets for running a restaurant business. The person should know food selection, menus, figuring out what customers like to eat and the ambiance of how people like to eat. They have to have training by actually having worked in a restaurant, familiar with kitchens, chiefs and culinary arts. Just like Greg Wesson's heart was in the pharmacy business and loved it, you need somebody who loves cooking, chiefs, menus and working with the dining public, all the things necessary to run a successful restaurant business. GM just picked a CEO who loves autos. MSFT is looking for someone for CEO who love technology and innovation. Darden needs someone to run the business who has the restaurant business in their blood and loves it. Clarence Otis would never be picked to run WAG, GM or MSFT and it was absurd for the BOD to keep a man in the CEO position who has skill sets for lawyering but not restaurants! As a shareholder I am angry about the way Clarence Otis and the BOD have managed the business. The BOD has to get their minds right and find somebody who knows how to run a restaurant business!

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 11:04 PM, imDanielle2 wrote:

    You would think that the idiots running these companies will figure out that ever since they decided to get involved in politics their business has suffered! People are tired of hearing these people complain about giving their employee's raises and benefits all at the same time the CEO's are raking in million in bonus's. I stopped going to Red Lobster as soon as they came out and said they were cutting employee's hours so they would not have to give them insurance.. That was all I needed to hear! I use to go to Red Lobster 2-3 times a month but I know I am not the only customer who felt this way and stopped going as well.. Maybe they need to get the idiots on FUX News to make up some "Liberal War on Darden" and all the right wing racist will rush in to their rescue?? LOL

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2013, at 11:14 PM, Dragonslayer wrote:

    Red Lobster's food is pure frozen garbage that isn't worth what they charge for it Olive Garden on the other hand has the problem of being an italian restarant that tries hard but fails because they are trying to please people whose palates are more accustomed to chef boyardee than actual flavor.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 12:30 AM, GREENMM31 wrote:

    There was a time at Red Lobster when the side dishes had to be brought on separate plates due to the portion size. that is long past, and quality has been in decline for quite a while. My visits there are fewer and fewer.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 12:50 AM, tpicciani wrote:

    I watch Kitchen Impossible quite a bit, even though I know a lot of it is staged. But one thing rings true there. Customers stop coming once you start using frozen food. And nearly every restaurant that has been shown to be a failure has used frozen meats and even pasta dishes. It's interesting to note that unprepared ingredients are cheaper to buy. But you need people who are skilled to prepare them. And this is a good example of what it costs a company to use only part time staff. If they would only learn to put money into people and save on the ingredients maybe they'd bring back the customers!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 12:51 AM, ejtampa wrote:

    The problem is poor management. We ate at Longhorn for dinner. 3 bartenders with one doing drinks just for the restaurant. Busy Saturday night and we sat at bar for 10 minutes with dirty plates in front of us before we were acknowledged. Guests yelling across the bar to get needed service. Food so so at best. Olive Garden and Red Lobster equally as bad. This is why the sales are down. The guest takes the back seat to cost control.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 1:19 AM, lagunakidd wrote:

    The problem with Darden is, with the Olive Garden they shorten their menu. We use to go for the veal but they discontinued it. For the price of a plate at Olive Garden, I still leave hungry. It's not filling and the taste of Italian is gone.

    The problem with Red Lobster, is you get a small quantity for the price, and the flavor is also gone. again I leave still hungry as well.

    I get full at TGI Fridays and Claim Jumper for the price I pay, and the food is good and in large portions.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 1:28 AM, lagunakidd wrote:

    Darden, No one likes frozen food! Why go out and pay big money for something we all can get at our local grocery store in the frozen food aisle cheaper? The quality and quantity of your Restaurants have gone way South into a ditch.. Don't forget, we now have the Food Network to give us those restaurant-tasting recipes we all can do at home cheaper, and FRESH. When a restaurant chain starts getting larger, their food suffers, trying to cut corners. Taco Bell isn't authentic as it use to be, KFC's chicken no longer has the taste of 11 herb and spices, etc... The list goes on and on.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 2:25 AM, sdtheis wrote:

    I have been in the industry 20 years which is actually less time than it's been since I have been to Red Lobster 5 out of 8 us got shellfish poisoning. In all fairness we selected the same meal( the multiple types of shrimp.) The others had fried or boiled. I have been to Olive Garden a few times over the last few years but their appeal is the unlimited breadsticks and salad and to go food on top of the meal. If they are gonna go upscale and charge more which they should have done awhile ago they will either need to do it slowly or be prepared to lose their existing base. In 2008 I left Outback to go to Carrabbas (same company) Outback went to the budget cutting prices side and Carrabbas cut portions a little left prices the same and offered more wine and high end options.

    My personal opinion is if you spin them off you might create a winner for the others but you might as well write off the 2 of them.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 2:31 AM, timgusair wrote:

    The Olive Garden has made some mistakes with their menu in the past few years. They changed their marinara sauce and made it too watery and bland. They have also taken many of their original core items off the menu to try and appeal to a wider demographic. Red Lobster has done the same thing in the pursuit of higher profit and lower value to the customer. If they just kept their core menu and added a few new features to attract new customers, they would not have alienated their regulars. If the food is good, people will pay for the food. If Darden continues to cheapen their menu and pander to the value proposition, they will close their doors sooner rather than later. Sooner or later, all restaurants that move away from their core menu to attract the fringe will find they are alienating more repeat customers than they are attracting new customers.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 2:43 AM, ectogamit wrote:

    The problem with Olive Garden is the 45min to 1.5hr wait.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:15 AM, JStu wrote:

    What's wrong with Red Lobster is simple- you can't get fresh Maine lobster unless you're here in Maine and it's fresh out of the water. Seafood that's been fozen and shipped all over God's great earth is not fresh.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:29 AM, ozzlefinch wrote:

    There is not much to be surprised about with any chain restaurant having falling sales. The food is manufactured at an off-site factory, frozen and trucked to the restaurant. It is then microwaved in the kitchen, covered with sauce out of a bin, then served on a nice dish.

    I much prefer the mom and pop diners. At least they have the decency to prepare the meals fresh from in-house ingredients. And they usually cost much less.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:39 AM, doawithlife wrote:

    Olive Gardens and Red Lobsters are always close to malls. The majority of the business has been lunches of mall shoppers.

    Society has changed. Instead of sitting down to a meal, we all sit on our phones. That simple change means people would prefer a quick sandwich at Panera. If they do want to sit down, Nordstrom's restaurants are closer.

    The only thing I miss about Olive Garden is the Sangria.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:44 AM, LibertyisFIRST wrote:

    The issue is plain and simple. The free market capitalism system is working. Progress has not taken our restaurant choices from us yet like it is doing with our health insurance. The people are free to decide where their money goes and what they will purchase, as it should be. God Bless America! There is no longer a perceived value at these places.

    I used to go to Olive Garden for the Tour of Italy more often until they shrunk the portions down to be just a little more than a partly microwaved appetizer. It is not the 1/2 hour or hour wait for a table that has been the deterrent. Many successful restaurants have long waits. The issue is; What are you waiting for?

    I see the Marxist/socialist/occupier type comments here trying to mock Fox News and CEOs who don't attempt to make restaurant workers wealthy, but those are not positions of liberty or cause and those are jobs, not careers designed to bring wealth. They are stepping stones or second income jobs with few exceptions. If you like the job, you can keep it if the employer thinks you're an asset because it is the employer's job, not the worker's. The worker is free to go elsewhere or free to make the case that they are worth more through discussion and merit. The CEO's income is absolutely no business of the employee as the charitable donations and investments he/she makes is no business of the employee.

    The balance needed here is value of the product, service and/or experience to the consumer. Although McDonald's has an issue with some employees stating an entitlement to $15 an hour for cooking burgers and fries, I will not pay 9 bucks for a Big Mac meal. Business will suffer greatly if that becomes reality. If you are feeding 3 or 5 or 7 people, you will look for the most value from that money spent. The price needs to match the product. It's a burger, fries and a drink, not steak, salad and potatoes.

    Freedom is doing its job here. It's up to the restaurants to offer the individual more reason to bring their money in the door.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 8:25 AM, shivan23000 wrote:

    Olive G and Red Lobsters are nice restaurants but they have same kind of food..very limited variety. Eating same kind of food is monotonous to patrons.They never have buffets nor do they distribute any kind of coupons . Trust me, coupons motivate lot of people like me to buy products and services. Also, i have noticed that employees there such as hosts and waiters/waiters treat customers well when Managers are around but they give you an attitude when the bosses are not around lol.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:08 AM, lindatracy2001 wrote:

    I think the biggest problem with these type of restaurants is the food. Right now, in our small city, we can go to several, privately owned restaurants and have a good meal, prepared fresh, for the same price. We can select from a wine list reasonably priced glasses of wine, a meal that is freshly prepared with local ingredients, and served by a professional staff. Even the casual restaurants are offering a menu that is interesting. I have a choice Red Robin for a sandwich that is uninspired or a local restaurant which offers, for the same price, a customized sandwich. Even if the price was a few dollars more, I would rather not eat out as often and spend my money on something that is fresh and in an establishment that wants my business. Not everyone feels the same, they have been sold by the commercials, but, eventually, they will see the difference. We are not a group of folks any longer who will buy anything, we are a group of folks who have been educated by Food Network, Top Chef, Chopped, etc. We now want real food.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:17 AM, LP57 wrote:

    I have to agree with every comment concerning food quality and price. For what is charged at both restaurants the quality just isn't there and there are so many other options to chose from. Both places feel like those desperate establishments attached to a low to mid budget hotel/motel in a rural location where choice isn't an option without a long drive to get there.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:26 AM, Dalton wrote:

    I'm pleased to see many of the comments posted here about the Olive Garden's awful food. In the Reno, Nevada area a weekly newspaper has a yearly Best Of Reno. Unbelieveable as it is the OG won the best Italian Food Restaurant several years in a row. I truly laughed out loud the first time I saw that result. Their food is very much the same as a microwave frozen dinner. Reno has numerous excellent Italian restaurants, yet the cullinary challenged continue to flock to the OG. Maybe it's the low prices, but I don't know how they compare to a real Italian restaurant. I ate at a Red Lobster restaurant about 20 years ago while visiting in Dallas, Texas. That was my first and last meal at that chain.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:29 AM, julie wrote:

    Seasons 52, check it out. casually sophisticated fresh food, great live music 7 days a week. Best concept restaurant ever! LOVE working for this company!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:07 AM, rettakj wrote:

    Last night I took my boyfriend to Red Lobster for his birthday and was disappointed. The food portions are getting smaller each time we go and the price is outrageous. The shrimp scampi was burned,had to send it back. The baked potatoes were so tiny. I can remember eating there years ago and the potaotes were my favorite of any restaurant. That is no longer true. When we walked in the door there was a 15-20 min wait with tables and booths empty everywhere !! They said they sent their help home early for too many hours..really RL ??? on a Saturday night ??? come on !! and we did indeed wait 15mins. everyone was mad. This RL was in Sevierville, TN. Has always been our favorite place to eat , but that may be changing soon :((( Get it together and we will be happy to continue eating there. Give back the food you did or lower your prices ! Why do you think i use to wait and hour to eat there and now im about to go out the door in 15 mins, just not worth the wait to get disappointed when i do get my food.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:13 AM, rettakj wrote:

    The Red Lobster was not in Sevierville ,TN it was in Knoxville , TN. We were suppose to go to Sevierville but didnt get to.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:33 AM, Billd33 wrote:

    Home cooking is killing the restaurant industry!!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 11:18 AM, Edna wrote:

    Alas, the food in both restaurants is equally boring so we don't hang out at either.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 11:41 AM, frcontrone wrote:

    When accountants run the kitchen, you get paper tasting food. Once upon a time, both RL and OG had real chefs that ran the kitchens and did so with fresh ingredients. Now it is all pre packaged, frozen, portion controlled tasteless food that any bean counter would be proud of because it fits the bottom line. As a result, people stop going when their own bad cooking is better than the over priced tasteless accountant approved food. Gordon Ramsey would have one of his famous fits if he had to deal with these concept restaurants. I won't miss either one.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 12:25 PM, largsmith44 wrote:

    I have written to Olive Garden management. They just don't get it, or anything about the restaurant business. They continually refuse to allow Olive Garden to be an "Italian" restaurant and try to mold it to the corporate image of what they think Darden management wants; whatever that is.

    The bottom line is that it will continue to suffer until they find their identity and begin acting like an Italian restaurant. How do they do this? For starters, they begin acting like an Italian restaurant by hiring some folks that can actually speak Italian or better yet, sing some Italian songs to entertain the guests while they are dining and/or waiting. Perhaps even an Italian sing-a-long where dining guests can have a little fun. The prices are too high for what you get too. Lower the prices a little, show the public a fun time, and I guarantee that they will be knocking down the door to come back.

    What needs to be done is to get rid of the management twerps that have screwed this place up. Capisce!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 12:37 PM, mugsy407 wrote:

    Ate at the Red Lobster in Knoxville back in October. Food was not all that great and the service was horrible. The waitress was quick to get her tip which I was opposed to giving her but the people I was with insisted.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 1:02 PM, guy1st wrote:

    Red Lobster used to be one of my favorites...but it has declined all around due to the patrons that took over the last 10 years. Piggy, Rude,disrespectful, I could go on. You know what I am saying

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 1:37 PM, Restman wrote:

    I used to go to the Red Lobster in Fort Walton Beach a few times a month but the place seems to have gone down hill. I would think being on the gulf of Mexico the fish would be better and for the service all I can say is it is either good or bad. I have tried both lunch and dinner and it doesn't matter. There are many fine places to eat in this area and if Red Lobster doesn't change I can see it closing.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:00 PM, jackallen wrote:

    Coming from New England, there are far better seafood restaurants to go to. The few times we did go it was a major disappointment as far as price vs. food. Good old REAL New England seafood places pile on the seafood, so getting less while paying for more is not a good thing no matter what demographic you are in. Used to like Olive Garden til they embraced M.O.'s strong arm tactics telling parents what their kids should eat in restaurants. Haven't been back since, nor will I.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:29 PM, diva827 wrote:

    I agree with a lot of the posts up hubby and I just went to Red Lobster not too bad, sometimes its hit or miss sometimes food is great sometimes its alright and sometimes it just sucks. And I'm sorry but Olive Garden is the worst!!! People don't take pride in what there doing/serving anymore customer service is almost dead but when pay low wages you can expect low employee moral. I also agree with one comment about trying to serve everything stick to one thing and specialize in that master that and make it the best that that it can be

    Everyone is trying to "cut back" and it shows the food has no quality to it!!! :-(

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:33 PM, Chirpee wrote:

    Red Lobster used to be my favorite place to go for seafood since we do not live near the ocean. In recent years their portions have gotten smaller and their prices higher. The quality of the food is no where near the quality it once was. The seafood doesn't taste as well as it used to. The vegetables and side use to be so much better and fresher. Recently I ate a Red Lobster in another town from my home town, it was nasty, the scampi was bland the shrimp mushy, the asparagus was not fresh or quality and it had sand on it....gross... I was so disappointed. You need to bring your menu back to the quality it once was with fresh seafood and and sides. Your cheddar bay biscuits are the only decent thing on your menu anymore and they are processed, not freshly mixed, I know this as I used to work at a company made them for Red Lobster.

    As for Olive Garden, you food was never good to me, have eaten there may be 4 times since you open your chain. I do not like that the only salad you offer is that dreadful mishmash of salad and other ingredients. The food taste nothing like real Italian food. Your expanded menu isn't any better. Provino's Restaurant is 1000 times better than Olive Garden, authentic as well.

    I used to love, love Long Horns, now the portions are smaller and obviously cook far in advance, leaving tasteless and old tasting.

    Darden needs someone who knows what they are doing running these and others of your restaurants or you will be a thing of the past.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 4:37 PM, ZAP1ROWSDOWER wrote:

    Olive Garden is to Italian food as McDonald's is to burgers. Fast food and not very good.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 5:04 PM, rojo16 wrote:

    When the quality and portions of the food declines and the prices still keep being raised, people start finding other options.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 5:14 PM, shearbear wrote:

    I love longhorn.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:14 PM, chrisbdba wrote:

    The last time we were at Red Lobster we got to enoy a table with screaming kids as we tried to enjoy our dinner.I wish they offered more choices in thing that were not fried or if friend more than just an appetizer.I would love to order a dinner of fried clams but they don't offer that.I would love a shrimp dinner that wasn't fried or served over pasta.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:23 PM, LadyMantle wrote:

    Both the OG and RL serve prepared frozen food that they slap into microwaves and pass off as fresh. The OG's pasta is always rubbery and chewy which does nothing to enhance even the best of sauces and cheeses. The OG has a good fresh salad and fresh baked bread sticks which IMHO are the best things on the menu. It amazing they have lasted this long so they should be grateful for customers who do not have discerning tastebuds and eat out no matter how bad the food.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:24 PM, lifeisntfair wrote:

    What's wrong with Red Lobster and Olive Garden?

    The food isn't that good and the prices are too high. Lonestar has the same problem. I've never eaten at Eddie V's, Yardhouse or Seasons 52. I would suspect the same issue there too.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:39 PM, 4merpatron wrote:

    Its called corporate GREED

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 7:46 PM, ScamuelJones wrote:

    Darden Restaurant group is in big trouble because their corporate policy is to "BAN" the U. S. flag being displayed in their Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants when civic groups hold meetings there! Many people like myself will not support or eat in such a place with these socialist, anti-American, hate America attitudes and policies! They should go to Russia or China to operate their restaurant chains where they would feel right at home!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 8:11 PM, Kimber2323 wrote:

    My Boyfriend works at Olive Garden and never, ever gets a paycheck. Why? Because he makes less than $3 an hour and has to share his tips with all the other restaurant staff (busboys, bartenders, etc). This tip sharing is mandatory and is based on the amount you sell. Darden automatically assumes that the waiters make 20% per check, which is complete BS since Olive Garden apparently attracts the cheapest people on the planet. I cannot tell you how many times when he has come home upset because he got stiffed. You suck Darden and I wish you non-tipping cheapskates would start eating at McDonalds. Stop wasting these hard working waiters time. You suck especially.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:06 PM, jaden1217 wrote:

    These restaurants have gotten away from family night out. start another all you can eat seafood spot with good prices. just be fair to the average hard working parent,friend, or son in law and business will blow up!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 9:53 PM, MimiCT wrote:

    It's a mystery to me... whenever I have gone to the Olive Garden, there's been a wait to be seated. I have had decent meals at OG, but have never tried Red Lobster. The salads and soups are really quite respectable. There's certainly a good variety of food on the menu. It's not what I would consider old country Italian but it's not bad.

    I do see an older crowd at OG, not many young people at all. I don't know what that says... maybe they need to find the younger crowd with an updated menu. Wings.. beer.. a bar? Do OG's have bars? A quick in and out lunch?

    Just my two cents.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 10:24 PM, thegodfather4u wrote:


  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 11:23 PM, trillspots wrote:

    Simple....price. Most Americans are worse off than they were 5 years ago. You want me to spend that kind of money for a meal, it better be stellar.

  • Report this Comment On December 29, 2013, at 11:50 PM, mikeadams wrote:

    Red Lobster - too expensive. I can get a better meal at any number of restaurants for significantly less money. Olive Garden - the food simply does not taste very good - nothing special about what they serve. Needs a complete menu overhaul with new recipes..

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 12:12 AM, george754 wrote:

    The members of Olive Garden Management need to have dinner at their local Carrabbas and take notes. The only meal I will eat at an Olive Garden is their soup and salad for lunch. I have never had a bad experience, of any kind, at a Carrabbas restaurant . . . and I have dined at several across at least three states. I am sure the folks at Darden believe their Olive Garden is on par with Bloomin's Carrabbas , , , but they are not even in the same ball park when it comes to food quality, service, and constancy across multiple store locations.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 8:13 AM, Balls00 wrote:

    I love my hometown Olive Garden in Newport News, Va. They make you feel at home and they are eager to please. As for Red Lobster, they are side by side to each other ut I choose Olive Garden everytime. Love them guys in there.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 8:56 AM, pangie wrote:

    I am amazed at all the negative comments regarding portion sizes at all these restaurants. most come with salad and bread as part of your meal, ( Olive garden offers unlimited soup or salad as part of your meal) then a full plate of food. I don't frequent these places because the food is utter shite, but I have NEVER left hungry at a Red Lobster or Olive garden. So, you people want good food, prepared fresh and not frozen, enormous portions, all at a low price. This is what is wrong with America- people if you want good italian food, go down to the locally owned italian place- most towns have one- yes, you pay more but you get real food made by skilled chefs not microwaved crap. But please stop demanding fresh food in large amounts at a small price.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 9:36 AM, elewi49 wrote:

    Basically the smell in Red Lobster needs to be cleaned up. Separate the Kitchen from the dinning area. Had to walk out twice the smell was so bad.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 10:11 AM, rgrsjolly wrote:

    We had lunch at the OG in Bradenton, FL last week. I pointed out on the menu the meal I wanted to our waiter. When we got the bill I saw that I was charged the dinner price for my lunch, even though I had pointed right to the item I wanted. Rather than chase him down to get a correction he got $2.00 less of a tip then we usually give. (The dinner price was about $3.50 more than the lunch price). We'll check the bill closer as soon as it's brought to us the next time.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 10:23 AM, Pamster wrote:

    I have not read all the posts but I know why we have stopped going to Olive Garden. First we noticed that the breadsticks flavor was changed It is just a piece of bread now. The salad bowl which used to be full is now only giving you 2servings. We always ask for more but by the time we get our second bowl our dinner has arrived. Seems like they take an exceptional long time to bring it. We have noticed that the portion sizes are much smaller. That is fine for me I never have to bring home leftovers anymore but my husband is always leaving hungry. The prices are still expensive for what you get. Sorry but we are disappointed and have stopped going for those reasons.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 10:31 AM, Rontink wrote:

    I worked for Olive Garden for 2 years. Horrible company. Disrespectful to staff and horrible food. They care about quantity not quality. It's all out of a freezer bag and thrown into a microwave and melt cheese on top of it. DONT eat there!! Frozen desserts nothing is fresh.....nothing. G.m.o and m.s.g....bad news kids take it from a former staff member.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 11:17 AM, edteked wrote:

    I remember when Red Lobster was good. They would have that yearly "all you can eat Snow Crab Legs" special. That was always a treat! Crab legs as long as your fore-arm! I would visit several times during that special bringing family and friends with me each time.

    This would also lead to going to Red Lobster during other specials. But the last AYCE Crab Legs that Red Lobster did, the CEO quit or was fired....I don't know the full story...something about the crab legs were too expensive and they lost a ton of money on the special...but he was gone...and with him, Red Lobster has never been the same. It went downhill from there.

    Red Lobster has billed its self as an upscale restaurant based off of the price of it's entrees. But it certainly does't give an upscale experience with their staff, food and decor. Like one commenter on here, the music is horrible...the staff is surly, and the food tastes bland...

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 11:45 AM, Conquistador wrote:

    Fools that they are they will drop a chain that has potential and keep the one that is causing their downfall. Why should I go to Olive Garden when I make all those dishes myself. They tasse better and I do not fork over a bunch of money for small portions.

    Then again, living on the East Coast, well I can get local seafood that is better than what Red Lobster serves. Still it is the better one to keep.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 11:45 AM, theox wrote:

    i ate at red lobster once. i ordered a broiled lobster and was served a steamed lobster. when i complained the server told me they did not do broiled lobsters. end of red lobster for me. as for olive garden the less said the better. i won't eat at these chains anymore for all the reasons posted here already. i'm lucky enough to live in new york city and can't believe for the life of me how these chains survive here. if you want a good meal here just walk a block or two and you'll find more decent food than any of these chains could ever serve up.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 12:31 PM, Vitabrits wrote:

    Broken record here.

    Americans are waking up to the fact that Darden serves "fast-food slow" at most of its restaurants. You are better off just buying a frozen dinner in your grocery store and heating that up.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 1:26 PM, mkp78575 wrote:

    Their problem is no more complicated than that pro-life, pro-family people avoid them.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 1:35 PM, mweston81 wrote:

    The problem is most of their lower income crowed can not afford going out anymore since rent has stayed high throughout the housing crash and continues to climb for investors profits.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 2:02 PM, elise0511 wrote:

    When Darden Restaurants announced they would cut employees' hours in order to evade providing them with health insurance and that they do not provide paid sick days, I decided that I would no longer eat at either Olive Garden or Red Lobster. Wait staff in Virginia make $2.13 per hour plus tips, and must work when they are ill, so Darden's public defiance of the ACA and their blatant disregard of their workers are reason enough. That Olive Garden's food is mediocre and a gluten intolerant's disaster and Red Lobster is mediocre and overpriced for the quality help me maintain my resolve.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2013, at 2:41 PM, Noonmark69 wrote:

    Hmmm. Of all of the Darden restaurants, the only one that I truly like and would visit again is the Bahama Breeze. But that's probably because Bahama Breezes are located in warm, vacation locales where the setting and drinks are so enjoyable that you aren't as picky about the food.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2014, at 9:43 PM, JuneauBrat wrote:

    About the only thing ever worth eating at Olive Garden was the soup, salad and bread stick lunch (or dinner) but the price for said meal was 7 times higher than what I could make it at home for.

    And Red Lobster...we quit going 5 years ago when the lines to eat the only so-so meals were an hour wait and no reservations could be made. Just not worth it!!!

  • Report this Comment On January 13, 2014, at 3:36 PM, bevj wrote:

    I'm totally amazed at all the negarive comments about Red Lobster and Olive Garden. I can't speak for every restaurant, but the RL, OG and Longhorn in the area where I live are excellent. It is impossible to get into any of them without a 30-45 minute wait any night of the week. And that is because their food is always flavorful, hot, and served with a smile. The portions are ample for anyone but a lumberjack. RL's shrimp and lobster dishes are tender and full of flavor and I love the choices at OG. Their minestrone soup (and their other soups, as well) are delicious. If one of their dishes has something in it that you don't like, they will change it for you if you ask. If you haven't eaten there, try them without relying on all the negativity contained with this article. Some people just have to snipe about anything and everything - it's the fashion. I call these people the kind of person that would complain if you hung them with a new rope. :-).. Don't be fooled.

  • Report this Comment On March 09, 2014, at 4:30 PM, effingannoyed123 wrote:

    During the past several years the CEO made some comments that were deemed ultra conservative, which caused many to boycott Red Lobster and Olive Garden. Maybe that is why they continue to "flounder"...scuse the pun.

  • Report this Comment On May 17, 2014, at 2:40 PM, foodeater wrote:

    Plain and simple... their menu has gone downhill in an attempt to pander to the small minority that is overly health-conscious. Nearly all of the great menu items have disappeared. I look at their menu and can only find 3 items that I would even eat. A majority of Americans do not want the "lighter fare" items. If they would take their menu back 10 years, I'd start eating there every week. Now, maybe I visit twice a year.

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