"massive quantities of barely edible fried items" (p. 200)
September 15, 2014 10:30 AM   Subscribe

Investment firm Starboard Value is unhappy with Olive Garden— unhappy enough to issue a scathing 294-page PDF enumerating all of the restaurant's sins.

Chief misdeeds include the breadsticks (wasteful!), the asparagus (non-standard!), and worst of all the pasta water (unsalted!).

Skip to page 165 for side-by-side comparison photos of the food Olive Garden advertises and the food it actually serves.

Hospitaliano!
posted by Faint of Butt (247 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
This page is complaining that Olive Garden isn't authentic Italian food.

Can I just say, very quietly, "duh"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:34 AM on September 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


Enjoying how bold Slate was to just brush past how the linchpin of their article - that salt is necessary to bring pasta water to correct temperature - was completely wrong, and breeze on anyhow...
posted by ominous_paws at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


I would have a pretty hard time trying to edit my manifesto about how terrible the Olive Garden is down to 294 pages.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:36 AM on September 15, 2014 [56 favorites]


"Previously, there was no olive oil in the kitchens – just one example of the lack of
Italian authenticity. Mr. Blum and Mr. Mock brought a keen emphasis on taste and
appearance, mirroring an authentic Italian dining experience."

If the writers of the document feel that previous changes were successful at "mirroring an authentic Italian dining experience" then it's probably unlikely their recommendations are going to be useful or feasible to save OG.
posted by Cosine at 10:37 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


On the bright side, now somebody's going to make a band called Standard Asparagus.
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:39 AM on September 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


I love this. And you know what, Starboard is right about most of their (ridiculously specific) recommendations:

- "Non-standardized To-Go bags and microwavable to-go container is the “Cadillac” container of the industry."

- "Darden’s straws are non-industry length, adding cost for a “custom run” from suppliers." (why would you even do this)

- "Servers’ training on wine service is lacking – even for simple steps like asking a guest if they’d like a drink." (Read: Why are you assholes not selling gallons of wine)

- "We believe the logo should be the LAST change needed (if at all) to turn around Olive Garden" (emphasis theirs)
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:41 AM on September 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Tomorrowful: Well, I know Diarrhea Pizza is already a band.
posted by Cosine at 10:41 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just ctrl+f'ing through this for various words I have stumbled across this "false wait" thing. That apparently managers are encouraged to understaff the restaurants, which means people wait longer because there aren't enough staff to actually feed a full restaurant.

I've never worked in retail or food service, but I just fucking love the stories I hear. People get their hours futzed with all the time, get their schedules changed unpredictably, work ridiculous shifts, and they won't even hire enough employees to actually staff their restaurant. A one-two punch of abuse the employees you have and don't provide jobs to able workers.
posted by phunniemee at 10:43 AM on September 15, 2014 [17 favorites]


The nonstandard asparagus is merely a venial sin, but failing to salt the pasta water? That's mortal.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:43 AM on September 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


We have assembled an all-star cast of seasoned executives who have the commitment and focus to enact this transformation plan

Seasoned executives will be added directly to the pasta water before boiling.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2014 [88 favorites]


Olive garden has changed its logo like five times in four years it seems. I keep expecting to catch a TV commercial where the logo is just a G inside an O in bare blac Arial.
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Fascinating document!
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:44 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Keep in mind this is Starboard's MO. They try to take over companies by buying up shares, then complaining about how bad they are doing, hence driving down the stock and demanding board seats, then once they are in charge they maximize net profit by selling the company for parts.

I went to OG this weekend and had a lovely time. It's crap, but hey, the salad is fine and it's way better than Applebees for basic mall dining.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:45 AM on September 15, 2014 [46 favorites]


Oh, hey, can someone ping Greg Nog for comment? That could be fuuuuuuun.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Chief misdeeds include the breadsticks (wasteful!), the asparagus (non-standard!), and worst of all the pasta water (unsalted!).

Starboard Value's investigation into Olive Garden was handled by Dalek & Dalek LLP.
posted by griphus at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2014 [40 favorites]


Did you note WHY they stopped salting their water?

It was to get an extended warranty on their pasta pots.
posted by gregvr at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


Paid by the word?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:49 AM on September 15, 2014


Protip: read this document in Lemongrab's voice.
posted by The Whelk at 10:50 AM on September 15, 2014 [46 favorites]


God, to be the MBA intern who got to write this. What a great gig. Get drunk and fuckin rip on Olive Garden. It must have been like American Psycho 2 in the office that day.
posted by GuyZero at 10:51 AM on September 15, 2014 [73 favorites]


What's the conversion rate between Standard Asparagus and Banana Equivalent Dose?
posted by Foosnark at 10:51 AM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Seasoned executives will be added directly to the pasta water before boiling.

If we can serve one executive with a nice garlic cream sauce, why can't we serve all of them?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:53 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


My grandfather was born in the United States but lived a significant part of his childhood in Italy. My grandmother would make proper gravy every Sunday up until she died (about 23 years before my grandfather). In his later years, he loved the Olive Garden. It wasn't great but it hit the right buttons for an old Italian-American. So I've never been able to get into the hate-on for Olive Garden.
posted by graymouser at 10:53 AM on September 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


An Olive Garden near my mom's house burned down earlier this year, she and I crept around the burnt-out husk the last time I was home. As we peeked into what was left of the dining room she commented, dryly, "I like what they've done with the place."
posted by troika at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2014 [85 favorites]


Funny to depressing as they start advising hiring less kitchen staff and buying in more ready-prepared food, as this eliminates risks of "sloppy prep work".
posted by ominous_paws at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Skip to page 165 for side-by-side comparison photos of the food Olive Garden advertises and the food it actually serves.

I did this. Spoiler alert:The food lovingly lit and photographed by well-paid professionals (previously) for images used in extensive promotions does not look the same as what you get when you order food in Schenectady.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


According to the Yelp map on p. 175, North Dakota is the most Olive Garden-loving state. I wonder if this is due to, or in spite of, the influence of famed Grand Forks restaurant critic Marilyn Hagerty.
posted by theodolite at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


@The Whelk: "This Olive Garden is...... UNACCEPTABLE! 100 years DUNGEON!"
posted by gregvr at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


57% of the time, servers do not follow the breadstick procedure and place too many breadsticks on the table, leading to massive waste.

'breadstick procedure' would make a good username.
posted by cjelli at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


Weirdly, adding more salt isn't really something I would add to the Olive Garden experience.

Also this is a hilarious call-out: Fried lasagna bites are not authentic Italian.

it's Olive Garden no one cares, if anyone wanted authentic Italian they would not be at a place with ranch dressing and endless pasta bowls and that's okay


(though honestly the one time I've eaten there, the servers were really nice, the salad was enormous, and despite an inability to pronounce anything, I've had way worse "Italian" food elsewhere, so I don't know, I'd rate it way higher than a TGIF or Applebee?)
posted by jetlagaddict at 10:55 AM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I laughed out loud at "Fried Lasagna Fritta?" on page 166!
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:57 AM on September 15, 2014


God, to be the MBA intern who got to write this.

Pretty close - I saw somewhere it was a 25 year old analyst.
posted by JPD at 10:57 AM on September 15, 2014


I am pleasantly surprised to learn that pasta is apparently prepared on site.

Any chain that will let me eat three to five bowls of salad will always have my business. But I ask them to not even bring the bread sticks because if they do, I have to take them home to my dogs and that can't be good for them Traces of garlic, probably HFCS. ..

Not up selling wine to the OG clientele seems shrewd.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:58 AM on September 15, 2014


I think there's kind of an Arby's effect going on where people are overstating how bad Olive Garden is. With the disclaimer that I've eaten there three times in the past five years, my assessment is that it's not a great or even good restaurant, but in the chain restaurant category, all of the better options that I'm aware of (Johnny Carino's, Bravo, Bucca de Beppo) cost significantly more for roughly equivalent dishes. Of course you'll get better food at your local mom and pop Italian place for the same or less than Olive Garden, but for good or for ill, Americans loves them some chain restaurants, and Olive Garden provides decent value for food that ranges from "meh" to actually pretty decent. (The further you get away from traditional pasta dishes and into entrees that happen to have pasta as part of them, the better off you are, IMHO.)

There's no excuse for the breadsticks being as terrible as they are, though. Come on, guys, how do you fuck up breadsticks???
posted by tonycpsu at 11:02 AM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Interesting post. It makes it seems as though OG is the polar opposite of McDonald's, where executives receive hourly sales reports in order to (traditionally at least) fine-tune the operation to squeeze out the maximum amount of profits.

Since neither OG nor McDonald's fulfill any sort of critical social need (ie, it's just a channel for disposable income, and should either company vanish off the face of the earth, it would not matter very much), why not try to optimize the operation? It just makes sense.
posted by Nevin at 11:04 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've certainly known people who would go to Olive Garden, spend $10 on an unlimited pasta bowl each, drink water, get a bunch of refills plus "one to go" and then tip poorly. Not shocked the restaurant doesn't make money on that.
posted by smackfu at 11:05 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Saw this Friday; have had the phrase "even a simple change like adhering to a clear breadstick policy..." as my gchat status for days.
posted by Diablevert at 11:06 AM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


In his later years, he loved the Olive Garden. It wasn't great but it hit the right buttons for an old Italian-American. So I've never been able to get into the hate-on for Olive Garden.

I think what you're seeing is a hate-on for their...pretentiousness?

Lemme 'splain. Olive Garden isn't...terrible. I mean, it won't give you botulism. I personally find the food a little mushy and over-sauced, but that is a matter of personal taste. And I suspect that if that's all that were going on, there'd be much less of a hate-on.

But Olive Garden is billing itself as "authentic Italian cuisine", which...it ain't. Italian-American, maybe; which is different. No less important, but definitely different. So the crowing that they're authentic Italian specialties sort of feels like they're....lying about what they actually are, which is a casual-dining Italian-influenced chain.

And in some communities they are taking business away from actual authentic Italian restaurants by making this claim. In other communities, yes, it's the only game in town, but in others, they're taking business away from the much more authentic restaurants with much fresher food.

In short - they're always talking about how their recipes are from this kitchen at a restaurant they have in Tuscany. But I'd have no quibble if they talked more about their cusine's connection to Little Italy or something, as that just feels like a more authentic representation of what they're doing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


As far as making Olive Garden authentic Italian, that ship has already sailed, served a long life, and been run aground and scrapped. Best bet now is spinning things as "fusion".
posted by ckape at 11:09 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe I've been hanging around video game sites too much; I keep expecting Olive Garden fans to respond with death and rape threats.
posted by happyroach at 11:09 AM on September 15, 2014 [31 favorites]


If we're gonna hate on a "Italian" restaurant, how about East Side Mario's? That was the only restaurant I ate at when I was a student where I thought "Even I can cook better than this."
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:09 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


This page is complaining that Olive Garden isn't authentic Italian food.

I can't wait to see them blow the lid off The Outback.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 AM on September 15, 2014 [33 favorites]


Keep in mind this is Starboard's MO.

There's a short summary of some of Starboard's other moves at the end of this WSJ article about the fund's push to break up Smithfield Foods. They went hard after AOL, e.g., when it became clear what a disaster Patch had become.
posted by mediareport at 11:13 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


According to the Yelp map on p. 175, North Dakota is the most Olive Garden-loving state. I wonder if this is due to, or in spite of, the influence of famed Grand Forks restaurant critic Marilyn Hagerty.

I had no idea that was one was so celebrated -- I have actually eaten there, despite having spent something like two hours of my entire life in North Dakota. Olive Garden vanished from most of Canada in 1996 or so. In 2002 I and another Ontarian were driving from Winnipeg MB to Madison WI, and when we stopped in Grand Forks for gas, the sight of an Olive Garden brought on simultaneous sensations of nostalgia and novelty. We knew we had to eat lunch there, and so we did.

It was exactly like every other Olive Garden Meal I have ever had.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:13 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Olives are fruit, from trees. Olive trees, coincidentally. It should be Olive Grove.

Barring that admittedly unlikely name change, put some fucking salt in the pasta water.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:14 AM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


(also, interesting cultural phenomenon I've noticed. "Standard Italian-American food" is increasingly connected as Old People Food.)
posted by The Whelk at 11:15 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Olive Garden: When you're hear, you're family." is not necessarily a positive thing. Have you SEEN some families?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:15 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


That would make a pretty good trick question: "Hey, what percentage of all Italian restaurants in the U.S. are Olive Gardens?" The correct answer being "zero".
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:15 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I liked the part of the PDF where the results from Red Lobster was dragging down the bonuses for the execs, so they sold the Red Lobster part of the business. Problem solved!
posted by smackfu at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


It must have been like American Psycho 2 in the office that day.

So, horrible and not entertaining?
posted by Going To Maine at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I used to be in charge of scheduling my department's team lunch every month. I learned pretty quickly that bringing everyone to the nearby Pho joint doesn't fly in an engineering department. The one consistent hit is Olive Garden for some reason, so we'd go there a few times a year. I'm not a big fan of italian food unless I'm in, say, Jersey or something, so I'd typically order some passable fish and be glad that everybody was happy.

A few years ago, we had an intern that was absolutely obsessed with the place. I sent out a lunch poll with OG as one of the options. He submitted his vote in 30 seconds, then called me to ask me to rig the vote for OG. I assured him that he had nothing to worry about, considering OG's popularity in the department. Sure enough, OG won, but we couldn't find him anywhere in the plant when it was time to leave for lunch. We found him waiting for us at the restaurant already munching on breadsticks. I have no idea how long he'd been there.

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, they can fix OG all they want, as long as they don't change whatever Clayton loves about it. I'd hate to see him let down.
posted by TrialByMedia at 11:16 AM on September 15, 2014 [108 favorites]


Olive Garden isn't...terrible. I mean, it won't give you botulism.

I feel like we collectively should have higher standards than "will not actively try to kill you".
posted by backseatpilot at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


GuyZero: God, to be the MBA intern who got to write this. What a great gig. Get drunk and fuckin rip on Olive Garden. It must have been like American Psycho 2 in the office that day.

Business Insider provides some hyperbolic language on Wes Calvert, the young lad who wrote the OG presentation: Meet The 25-Year-Old Rising Star Who Worked On That Epic Hedge Fund Presentation On Olive Garden.

If you want to dig further into Starboard Ventures, an "activist investor" firm, look through Underdisclosed's posts on the company and you'll see a number of companies that have received similar "epic smackdowns" in an effort to devalue the company for easier take-over and dis-assembly.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


it won't give you botulism

I have a counter example so extreme it almost caused people to call the hospital just by listening from the outside of the bathroom stall.
posted by poe at 11:18 AM on September 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


What's funny is that I think most people would agree with the rest of that slide about Olive Garden losing its Italian heritage. For instance: "extreme portion size is inconsistent with authentic Italian values" and " wine is an authentic part of the Italian family dining
experience."
posted by smackfu at 11:19 AM on September 15, 2014


I've eaten food in Baltimore's Little Italy that was no better than Olive Garden. My experience is that in the US, most Italian 'red check tablecloth' restaurants are pretty mediocre, even if they are family run. So I never much got the huge anti-Olive Garden thing. Not that I would choose to eat there normally, but then I live in one of the great restaurant areas of the world and have a million more interesting options. I wouldn't choose to eat at Bucci di Beppo or Cheesecake Factory either, and they charge more for not notably better food.
posted by tavella at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


Mix of full time versus part time employees is much higher than peers

Fuck your healthcare coverage, previously full-time employees.
posted by GrapeApiary at 11:21 AM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I feel like we collectively should have higher standards than "will not actively try to kill you".

That's how we elect politicians, isn't it?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:21 AM on September 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


> Keys to casual dining success: LEADERSHIP – INNOVATION – VISION – EXECUTION (L.I.V.E.)

Back in the '90s I had just the smallest taste of a professional life where I would be expected to write, read, listen to and speak CorporateTalk like this, and I got the hell out as fast as I could. Now it all reads like TIMECUBE to me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


On one of the only occasions I've been to an Olive Garden, I idly tossed my business card in the fishbowl at the counter for their "win a free lunch" drawing and thought no more about it. One day a couple of weeks later, I get a call from the lobby saying that "my lunch is here". I had no idea what they were talking about. I go down (escorted access only building) and there's a guy carrying bags with enough salad and breadsticks for ten people, and nothing else. There had been no notice or notification. I had a lunch appointment that day already. I went back up to my department, pulled a table out into a common area and threw the food down on it, told the people who wandered up with questioning looks on their faces to have at it, and left.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2014 [20 favorites]


the fund's push to break up Smithfield Foods.

Only after the company had already sold themselves to the highest bidder.
posted by JPD at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


It wasn't great but it hit the right buttons for an old Italian-American.

Very much so. My parents, who are in their 80's, love Olive Garden. They don't care that it's not 'authentic' - they come over to my place for that.
They like going out to dinner and neither of them like Applebees (my mother makes her sour milk face whenever that option is mentioned) or similar places.
So mostly we wind up at Olive Garden - they don't always know what day it is, but they have the menu committed to memory.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Some people enjoy "comfort" food (as in, you always know what you're going to get) and shy away from novel experiences. I have relatives who won't try Japanese food because it's too far removed from their comfort zone, and I know nice folks who won't eat anything that they can't identify. Olive Garden gives people like that another option, next to burgers and pizza.


backseatpilot: I feel like we collectively should have higher standards than "will not actively try to kill you".

Faint of Butt: That's how we elect politicians, isn't it?

Lowest common denominator wins!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also this is a hilarious call-out: Fried lasagna bites are not authentic Italian.

it's Olive Garden no one cares, if anyone wanted authentic Italian they would not be at a place with ranch dressing and endless pasta bowls and that's okay


Maybe people aren't looking for "authentic Italian" but I am actually down with Olive Garden (my family likes to go there, I think it's not that bad) and it typically delivers a superior experience to restaurants like Applebee's. It is now becoming a slightly Italian-inflected Applebee's and that makes me genuinely sad. Everything must go.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'd like to see that Yelp map overlaid with the percentage of people of Italian descent in each state.
posted by box at 11:25 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


> should either company vanish off the face of the earth, it would not matter very much

Well, the 1.8m people who work at McDonalds would be kinda screwed, but since no "critical societal need" is being served, just optimize them into a mulcher and use them as them compost. No great loss, amiright?
posted by kjs3 at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm confused by the "false wait" concept, which apparently is understaffing your restaurant to.. what, save the $2.13/hr that you are paying your waitstaff? I've seen press lately that indicates that more and better employees pay for themselves, at least in retail stores like Trader Joe's, Costco, QT.

Seriously, are restaurants that different from retail? Is there a place in the market for a high quality / high touch restaurant that works off the theory that additional employees = happy customers = higher revenue?
posted by ensign_ricky at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


the young lad who wrote the OG presentation

OMG, it is such a disaster graphically. Like, my eyes are bleeding from the mix of formats, fonts, styles, logos, column widths, bursts, boxes, colors, charts. All it's missing is some drop shadows. Such unrestrained enthusiasm should not go unpunished.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


I would kill to get this kind of in-depth analysis of my current business.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I once ate at an Italian restaurant in NYC where the pesto was made with dried basil. Top that, Olive Garden!
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:28 AM on September 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


Casual dining sector is not doing great. Too many of them, low quality of ingredients reflects thin margins, waiters are disenchanted college students, suspiciously flavorful sauce leaves you thirsty for 36 hours, faux-leather booth smells faint of butt, the floor by the salad bar (if they have one) is covered in thousand island dressing. As I get older my tolerance for cheap food is dropping. I eat better at home than most casual dining restaurants, where it becomes a sort of battle ground to find the right menu item that won't leave me wasted with too much salt, fat and carbs. Usually end up with plain hamburger (no bun, take half home since it's 1/2 a pound of 80% lean), salad (olive oil (?) and vinegar) and some kind of starch (rice, potato). Water, no desert. The least processed food strategy.
posted by stbalbach at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


I would kill to get this kind of in-depth analysis of my current business.

By any chance is your business being a hit man in a barter economy?
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:30 AM on September 15, 2014 [18 favorites]


...faux-leather booth smells faint of butt...
posted by goethean at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I would kill to get this kind of in-depth analysis of my current business.

Its a lot of what, but not much why. The finance world loves that shit.
posted by JPD at 11:32 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Umm, adding salt to pasta doesn't change anything about the temperature at which pasta cooks. You salt pasta to bring out flavor and make the pasta salty...
posted by disclaimer at 11:34 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I once ate at an Italian restaurant in NYC where the pesto was made with dried basil.

What, pure basil not stretched with powered spinach? Luxury!
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I was waiting for the recommendation:

"The single biggest missing ingredient in turning around Olive Garden is charts. We recommend an immediate integration of 400% more charts in the menu."
posted by Muddler at 11:36 AM on September 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


Of course you'll get better food at your local mom and pop Italian place for the same or less than Olive Garden, but for good or for ill, Americans loves them some chain restaurants

There's also a pretty decent swath of the country where there is no local mom and pop Italian place. The town I grew up near had a county commissioner run on a campaign of little more than promising to bring in a fast casual chain restaurant that would serve alcohol, only for Olive Garden, Applebee's and Red Lobster to straight up reject the town as a viable location, so he opened up his own (terrible) wings place in a grim, hastily-constructed concrete building behind the Bob Evans. It closed after a year or two and I think the only place you can have a beer with your food now is in the bar of the Holiday Inn.

Anyway, my point here is that in a lot of places, the choice isn't between Olive Garden and a local, struggling Italian place that could really use your money, it's between Olive Garden and McDonalds, or maybe Olive Garden and whatever you can pick up that's ready to eat at the nearest Wal-Mart.
posted by Copronymus at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2014 [22 favorites]


If Olive Garden got rid of the breadsticks they'd go out of business in days. The breadsticks are THE loss leader.

On the scale of business travel meals, I always put OG up pretty high. At least at the time, they were a lot quieter than the junk-on-the-walls restaurants, and even if the restaurant was packed the bar was usually nearly empty. And I could get a meal there, even a meal and a glass of wine, for less than per diem. Salad and breadsticks, bowl of mussels, if you didn't feel like eating a big gloopy meal.

I think food science is changing its mind about salted water (and also about the rolling boil). I believe Alton Brown has recently retracted his previous backing of the conventional wisdom, going so far as saying you do not need to cook one family meal of pasta in 6 quarts of rolling sea-saline water. I've heard someone else say the same, but I can't remember who (Kenji Lopez-Alt maybe?).
posted by Lyn Never at 11:38 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Enjoying how bold Slate was to just brush past how the linchpin of their article - that salt is necessary to bring pasta water to correct temperature - was completely wrong, and breeze on anyhow...

Obligatory Slate-bashing!

But, no. I don't see how any commonsense reading of the article leads to the conclusion that salt's supposed ability to manipulate temperature is 'the linchpin.' The article recommends salt for its commonsense use: to enhance flavor. The temperature effect is ancillary.
posted by Zerowensboring at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2014


We found him waiting for us at the restaurant already munching on breadsticks.

Be glad they don't offer unlimited free whiskey.
posted by Pudhoho at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2014


I'm confused by the "false wait" concept...

I don't understand the logic there either. The last time I went to an Olive Garden was several years ago, and my party had to wait two hours to be seated. If I had my druthers we would have left much sooner, so maybe it was my party's fault for putting up with the wait in the first place.

I'm not someone who would go there frequently anyway, but after that experience I have made sure to never go there again, and I've told the story about the never-ending-wait for never-ending-breadsticks many times. Now to find out that might have been the result of an intentional policy meant to increase business somehow? It's mind-boggling to me that a company would do this, even if there were evidence that it did somehow cause increased demand for your product.
posted by dhalgren at 11:41 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Only after the company had already sold themselves to the highest bidder.

Of course. I'm not in total agreement with Potomac Avenue's take on Starboard, which seemed simplistic; I think what Starboard tried to do at AOL was very much worth encouraging, if not actively cheering on, and getting companies to replace stale board members with people who actually give a fuck and know what they're doing isn't a bad thing, either. But I freely admit some of Starboard's tactics rub me the wrong way; it's standard Bottom Line At All Costs stuff, for sure, but it's hard for me to watch "activist" investors calling for dropping full-time workers and replacing them with part-timers and not feel a little angry, even as I recognize the larger, probably unstoppable trend.

But I'm curious, JPD, how you'd describe Starboard's work beyond the "No. Try again." you casually dropped above. I don't know much about them beyond what I've said here, and what I'm reading at the Underdisclosed link that filthy light thief just posted, so I'm interested to hear what you think about the company.
posted by mediareport at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Back in the '90s I had just the smallest taste of a professional life where I would be expected to write, read, listen to and speak CorporateTalk like this, and I got the hell out as fast as I could. Now it all reads like TIMECUBE to me.

My job is like that sometimes and I enjoy it as a stylized kind of insane drama. I think of it as Noh with less disemboweling and more chart and graph! If you think of lunchtime as kyōgen, you're all set!

I don't get a swanky costume or a neat mask to perform it, though.
posted by winna at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2014 [14 favorites]


Anyway, my point here is that in a lot of places, the choice isn't between Olive Garden and a local, struggling Italian place that could really use your money, it's between Olive Garden and McDonalds, or maybe Olive Garden and whatever you can pick up that's ready to eat at the nearest Wal-Mart.

That's a pretty important point. The distinction between OG and an Italian Restaurant is not the food, it's that it's EZ 2 Spot from the freeway, EZ 2 Drive 2 on nice curvy sprawl roads, EZ 2 Park in their big roomy lots (as compared to scary street and alley parking at the real places), and you don't have to look up reviews or ask around to know what it's like, because everybody already knows what it's like. And as you say, a lot of people live where there are not and have never been any traditional family restaurants.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Its a lot of what, but not much why. The finance world loves that shit.

Sometimes all you really need is someone shouting the obvious stuff that you refuse to see.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've heard someone else say the same, but I can't remember who (Kenji Lopez-Alt maybe?)

Yup, it's Kenji. I was delighted to find that what I was calling "being super lazy while cooking pasta in the smallest pot" is in fact being smart. (I do use salt though I'm not a monster, it's just the sauce isn't also 90% sodium.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


> should either company vanish off the face of the earth, it would not matter very much

Well, the 1.8m people who work at McDonalds would be kinda screwed, but since no "critical societal need" is being served, just optimize them into a mulcher and use them as them compost. No great loss, amiright?


That's an interesting point.

Speaking as someone who has worked at Bloaters, what we as a society ought to be doing is providing everyone with the opportunity to aspire to self-actualization, and to do work that is personally meaningful, rather than saying "here, put on this uniform and serve grease."
posted by Nevin at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2014


I learned pretty quickly that bringing everyone to the nearby Pho joint doesn't fly in an engineering department.

#NotEveryEngineeringDepartment
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2014 [27 favorites]


Reading through this reminds me of Domino's "transformation" of late, where they run commercials admitting that their food was barely edible garbage, and that they've taken steps to actually produce and sell food that can boast more than high fat and caloric content. They've failed, and now their food is bad in an entirely different way, but I can't help but notice similarities.
posted by codacorolla at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't see how any commonsense reading of the article leads to the conclusion that salt's supposed ability to manipulate temperature is 'the linchpin.' The article recommends salt for its commonsense use: to enhance flavor. The temperature effect is ancillary.

I certainly didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings by taking issue with a Slate article... but you did read as far as the correction, yes?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2014


Did you note WHY they stopped salting their water?

It was to get an extended warranty on their pasta pots.


Huh. I said to someone about this yesterday, semi-seriously, that I figured it was because the rest of the food - like all chain restaurants - is so overloaded with sodium that the pasta itself doesn't need it. I mean, when your spaghetti with meatballs has over a full day's recommended intake of sodium (pdf to chart), how could you even taste any salt in the pasta itself?
posted by dnash at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Goddess and Ultimate Authority Marcella Hazan demands that the water be "as salty as sea water", but I've personally never been sure that it has a profound effect on the pasta itself so much as the sauce you slop a good bit of the pasta water into. Maybe one of mefi's culniary terrors can step in and let us know?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Obligatory Slate-bashing!....I don't see how any commonsense reading of the article leads to the conclusion that salt's supposed ability to manipulate temperature is 'the linchpin.' The article recommends salt for its commonsense use: to enhance flavor.

Slate removed its previous statement (not in the Starboard analysis) that you need salt in pasta water to fully release some mystical property of pasta that is only released when the boiling point of water is raised a marginal amount. The correction is at the bottom of the article.
posted by mediareport at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2014


I certainly didn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings by taking issue with a Slate article... but you did read as far as the correction, yes?

I did read the correction, yes.

I doubt anyone's feelings are hurt. (Drat, where's my hankie?) I've just noticed Slate is a common target for certain kinds of criticism. Some of it's justified, some of it's not.
posted by Zerowensboring at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2014


I'm actually surprised to learn they even have pots for boiling pasta. I just assumed they had a machine in back that produces a continuous hot noodle, with spinning blades in front that chop it to length as it comes out.

You know, the same way they do the breadsticks.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


FWIW, Darden, the parent company has issued a 23 slide rebuttal (OG content starts on slide 8).

In slide 11, they note that one of their strategic initiatives is to "Elevate focus on soup, salad and breadstick execution."
posted by jasper411 at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Excellent, I shall print this out for reading material while I dine on Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 11:51 AM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I used to flip burgers in a Mexican restaurant, and the kitchen manager changed partway through. The first guy went to high school with my brother and liked to hang out with the kitchen crew, which would range from well staffed to overstaffed. He didn't really plan on making this a long-term thing and wasn't overly concerned with bonuses or what corporate thought of him. The second guy was obsessed with maximizing his bonuses, so he'd understaff us all the time and get on us to measure out everything, so he'd get bonuses for minimizing labor and food costs. This obsession lead to all sorts of emergency runs to Sam's Club since he'd refuse to stock up on things and we'd run out all the time.

So yes, I can totally believe that the bonuses are structured so the managers get better bonuses for keeping labor costs down at the expense of driving away customers.
posted by ckape at 11:53 AM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


I think food science is changing its mind about salted water (and also about the rolling boil). I believe Alton Brown has recently retracted his previous backing of the conventional wisdom, going so far as saying you do not need to cook one family meal of pasta in 6 quarts of rolling sea-saline water

yup, it's Kenji

What food science is changing it's mind on is amount and heat of water, not salt. You can cook pasta at a lower heat in a smaller pot and it'll be fine. (It'll just take longer, and possibly need more stirring.) But nobody's denigrating salt. Salt is for flavor.
posted by Diablevert at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2014


If people have to wait it gives the impression that your Olive Garden is the popular place to be, which I imagine most managers would want.
posted by dilaudid at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2014


Oh man, I remember the last time I was at the Olive Garden - Keys to casual dining success: LEADERSHIP – INNOVATION – VISION – EXECUTION (L.I.V.E.) was the best concert experience I've ever had. False Wait was a little slow to get started, making The Breadstick Procedure the real opener and the audience just ate it up. Standard Aspargus couldn't really measure up, but Fried Lasagna Fritta's new solo act was unbelievable. Recordings don't do it justice. Finally, I just couldn't get enough Salt.
posted by maryr at 11:58 AM on September 15, 2014 [15 favorites]


No. Try again.

I can't that's all I know about em. Can you set me straight? I saw them do this at...(cAOLugh) a company I worked for. I mean they were correct in some of their assessments, but way way off on others. Like made up fiction off. And then as soon as they were denied access to the board, you stopped hearing from them. What's a better way to describe activist shareholders? If they really cared about the long term health of the company they would try to enact changes in private no?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:03 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've personally never been sure that it has a profound effect on the pasta itself so much as the sauce you slop a good bit of the pasta water into

Have you never tasted the pasta when you've forgotten to salt the water? It's an easily detectable difference, to my palate, at least. It's the same as salting any other ingredient --- the point isn't to put in so much the thing itself tastes salty, but just enough to enhance its flavor, so it doesn't taste bland. Obviously, with pasta water you want the water itself to be salty-tasting, because the pasta's only going to absorb a portion of it.

But this is a pretty easy comparison to make --- give it a go sometime. Plain pasta cooked in unsalted water is blander than plain pasta cooked in salted water.
posted by Diablevert at 12:03 PM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


lefty lucky cat: while I dine on Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster.

You seem to have misspelled "Cheddar Bay Biscuits".
posted by tonycpsu at 12:05 PM on September 15, 2014 [22 favorites]


is blander than plain pasta cooked in slated water.



'slated water' lulz.
posted by Zerowensboring at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


...and Diablevert is totally right. Matches my experience exactly.
posted by Zerowensboring at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


'slated water' lulz.

Laugh all you like, it's rich in minerals.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:09 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


FWIW, while Olive Garden is indisputably horrible shite that no human should consume...I'm pretty sure it's been scientifically proven a couple times now that salting pasta water has little to no significance toward how it cooks or tastes.
posted by trackofalljades at 12:14 PM on September 15, 2014


MetaFilter: it won't give you botulism
posted by Foosnark at 12:14 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you have an hour-long wait, it doesn't matter if the people at the back of the line leave, because there will always be more. We totally avoided restaurants like that, especially on the weekends, for that reason. I was at Red Lobster recently (against my will) and the wait was close to an hour even with reservations. I'm not sure why people put themselves through that.
posted by desjardins at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2014


I mean, I can't think of a really good restaurant where I've had to wait an hour. Why is it the crappy-to-mediocre ones?
posted by desjardins at 12:18 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I have a certain nostalgia for OG as it was my family's "fancy eat out" place when I was in high school (the steak place was VERY fancy eat out). But now I only eat there with older relatives who aren't interested in trying anything new.
posted by emjaybee at 12:18 PM on September 15, 2014


I almost always forget to salt my pasta water, and no one I've cooked for has ever commented on the difference. Most casual home cooks I see who salt their water put such a tiny pinch in such a large volume of water that it seems like more of a placebo than anything. Maybe next week I'll cook my pasta in really briney water and see if it makes a big difference.
posted by muddgirl at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


> I'm not sure why people put themselves through that.

I visited my parents and a group of their friends overwintering near Fort Myers last year. Whenever we went out to dinner it was *impossible* to convince them to try a restaurant that wasn't a chain. Sometimes we wound up driving to three or four places (although to be fair, some were merely on different sides of the same airport-sized parking lot) looking for a table.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:26 PM on September 15, 2014


I was in a small town once, talking to someone who worked in the bank there. It was a 45 minute drive to the nearest Wall Mart.

She was talking about how she was about to move to a big city (Nashville, I think), and how excited she was to live at a place where she could eat at OG. She had only been there once in her life and it had been an excursion to a closer city to her (again, think an hour drive).

I didn't heave the heart to give her my opinion on the food, or how it rates compared to countless 'authentic' ethnic restaurants I've been at (often times 'authentic' is still very americanized, even if it's run by people of the appropriate ethnicity).

The truth of the matter is that there are *lot* of american's that see OG as being somewhat fancy. They probably shouldn't change that much if they want to keep that loyal clientel. But maybe they should only bring free breadsticks if folks actually want them.

But for corporate to talk about how authentic OG's food is makes as much sense having the same conversation about taco bell. It makes no sense.
posted by el io at 12:29 PM on September 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Maybe next week I'll cook my pasta in really briney water and see if it makes a big difference.

Did you keep the warranties on your pots?

DON'T DO IT
posted by Auden at 12:33 PM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


FWIW, Olive Garden does try to pass its food off as authentic Italian in its advertisements.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 12:34 PM on September 15, 2014


OTOH, I live a five minute walk from a traditional Italian restaurant dating back to the 1950s in a fine building in a long-established part of town. It is hugely popular with older people and fairly conservative middle-income types.

The food is absolutely disgusting. I'd rather eat at OG by a mile, and I speak as someone who's only been to an OG two or three times and only because I didn't feel like arguing.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Recently, a very generous person (and her kitties) gifted my wife and I with a gift card to OG. We found a convenient weeknight and we visited our local establishment. It had been ages since we had been, so I really had no idea what to expect anymore.

All I will say is the Lasagna Fresca with Shrimp was goddamned great, and I don't care how inauthentic it was. I never pay attention to any of that marketing hoo-ha, anyway. I used to work in marketing. I know better.

And the wine was actually pretty good, too. I'd honestly go back.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


The key to properly boiled pasta and a very happy customer isn't
salted water, it's lithium salted water
posted by Auden at 12:39 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


OK, according to this serious eats taste test, "briney" is way too far. They advocate about 2 tsps per liter of water for Morton Coarse Kosher salt.
posted by muddgirl at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there may be nothing authentic about that fried lasagna business, but it's tasty.
posted by in278s at 12:49 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


there are *lot* of american's that see OG as being somewhat fancy

There are a lot of Americans who can only afford a $20-30pp meal on special occasions. If you don't often eat in table-service restaurants, are you going to choose Giovanni's - which you have driven by, it seems dark inside, you may not know anyone who's ever eaten there, and the menu may have a lot of things you're not sure you like to eat or take a $20 chance on not liking - or the nicely-lit standardized restaurant with a bunch of people always standing around outside on weekend nights, where all the commercials have friendly servers and happy scrubbed smiling customers.

If you are additionally feeding children, you may be concerned about what they might do to the ambience/furniture at Giovanni's, or what happens when little Emma insists on $14 pizza thinking she's getting Domino's and then refuses to eat the end result because it has identifiable tomato and basil on it.

I lived in a suburb of Fort Worth for about a decade (with nice Downtown restaurants 15 minutes away), and there was a restaurant row along the freeway with the usual suspects, and now I wonder if Olive Garden was packed all the time because of this deliberate wait or what, but I can tell you that the place looked like a David's Bridal exploded every prom night. For a lot of people, it's super fancy, and it is actually a lot better food than Chili's or even Red Lobster.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:53 PM on September 15, 2014 [23 favorites]


Obligatory salted water for boiling
posted by dabug at 12:54 PM on September 15, 2014


I'll just leave this here: "FDA: Everyone Needs to Induce Vomiting Right Now"
posted by blue_beetle at 12:56 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


When I had a visitor recently, this person wanted italian food and I suggested olive garden. Then I remembered I am a poor graduate student and I rejected the idea. So while olive garden may not seem expensive to others, for me it's quite a stretch and not something I can do often, or at all.
posted by Aranquis at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


In regards to the "it's familiar" aspect of Olive Garden, I have a story. I'm not sure is even related, but I feel there's some connection.

In my work place we have a running joke. We joke that whenever we visit our stores(this is retail) and ask them, "What's a good local place to eat?" you will receive one answer and one answer only: "Well, there's the Applebees" Exactly like that. Well (pause) there's the Applebees. Never mind the fact that Applebees isn't local, never mind the fact that it isn't good. Hell, I'll challenge you on it being a "place to eat". That is the answer.

Last year we tested our Applebees joke and got 3/4 employees (at different stores) to suggest Applebees.

But I think the reason we get that is the same reason people eat at Olive Garden. It is a known variable. You know what you are getting. The store employee's don't want to give us a bad recommendation so they go with the safest thing possible. That happens to be Apples 9 times out of 10 due to the location of our stores.
posted by Twain Device at 12:57 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's crap, but hey, the salad is fine

It gave us the screaming shits once or twice; I can't recall whether we learned our lesson the first time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Olive Garden is a big deal in SoCal, and I am not ashamed to admit that I still love their soup, salad, breadsticks, and tiramisu. When I moved to New York for an internship a few summers ago, my New York native relatives were utterly aghast at my occasional trips to the one that is/was near Dylan's Candy Store on 60th. I heard, "You live literally steps away from some of the best and most authentic Italian food outside of Italy! Why are you going to that POS tourist trap?" SO often that I stopped telling people where I was eating for dinner after a while.

The thing was that as a middle class person with food allergies on a budget, Olive Garden was a safe and easy rest stop after a long day. I knew exactly how much everything was, I knew exactly what I could and could not eat, and damn it, I really enjoyed the never ending breadsticks and Andes mints that the cute struggling actors and actresses liked to shower on me because I was nice and also cute. Going to an authentic Italian restaurant was a treat, but it was also fraud with danger -- what's in your marinara? When I say no meat does that really truly translate because last time you gave me something with fish in it instead and I was sick for weeks? Oh god now I have to send this $20 dish back and I won't get my money back and now my food budget's messed up and... Anxiety doesn't feed the soul.

So basically what I'm saying is, yes, from a quality perspective Olive Garden is to Italian food as McDonalds is to burgers and fries. The prices are inflated. The service is understandably poor. It's a ridiculous American creation, as are most American chain restaurants. But that's sort of part of its charm, tbh. So stuff a breadstick in it, Starboard. I'm still sort of a fan.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


I came into this thread to share my Olive Garden rage:

I last went to OG in maybe 2012? The waiter asked if we'd like to sample their newest wine. I said sure. He brought me a tiny thimble of it. I tasted it. It was OK but I declined to order a glass. We eat our food. We get our bill and those fuckers charged me TWENTY-FIVE CENTS FOR THEIR SHITTY THIMBLE OF WINE. They never told me the "sample" was not free, either in general or if I didn't then order a glass. Fuck them forever for that stupid sneaky nickel and dime. If you can't afford to give out a free "sample" without going under, then don't give out samples!!
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Meh, I don't really care about authenticity when I'm eating if the food tastes decent, and the food at Olive Garden is definitely edible by my standards (no botulism!). I mean, I eat Americanized Chinese food all the time and probably most of you do too. I don't know if most of the clientele are really pretending that the food is exactly like what you'd have in Italy. I doubt most people care. It was definitely a "fancy place" when I was growing up, somewhere you'd go for your birthday or other special occasion. And we had plenty of other options within a 20-30 minute drive, but it was safe and relatively inexpensive and I totally get why people go there. If I were traveling on a budget, I could totally see eating at chain restaurants rather than risking $15-20 on the unknown.
posted by desjardins at 1:01 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Metafilter: Complex menus, inefficient use of technology solutions, and too much internal prep work"


We are still doing this right?
posted by ShawnString at 1:12 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


On salting pasta water:

I only started doing it within the past year, and I do notice a difference.

My pots are also fine, but I don't go nuts with the salt either - like, maybe a tablespoon at most in a big 6-7 cup pot. More than a pinch, but less than a cup.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:13 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you have an hour-long wait, it doesn't matter if the people at the back of the line leave, because there will always be more.

The only number that matters is the total number of customers served, which will be fewer if you don't have enough staff to serve at the capacity and rate that your building could handle.
posted by straight at 1:14 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Fried lasagna bites are not authentic Italian. Beyond that, we believe this consistent lack of execution highlights the lack of pride and need for extensive training for restaurant level employees."
posted by zipadee at 1:20 PM on September 15, 2014


I doubt most people care.

I, on the other hand, am prepared to guarantee that the overwhelming majority of customers do not give a single fuck as to whether Olive Garden is "authentic" Italian.
posted by aramaic at 1:21 PM on September 15, 2014


I only really have experience with Red Lobsters - it's been many years since I've eaten at an Olive Garden - but I have several relatives who live in places where Red Lobster is the only non-fast-food restaurant option, and they like to go out to eat when I visit. IME, the quality of the food actually does vary by how well-run the place is - is your broccoli mushy or crisp? was it obviously past its prime when cooked? are things overbaked or overfried? does the deep-frying oil get changed regularly? is the restaurant well-enough run that everything gets to the table hot and at the same time? I actually like the Red Lobster near my parents' house - I wouldn't choose it over the places I like in Minneapolis, but it's reasonably tasty food for that type of thing. I expect that Olive Gardens vary similarly.

I've had some really, really terrible Italian food here in Minnesota, and it's a huge crying shame. In the suburb where I grew up, there were something like three really good Italian restaurants, and we could drive to another four or five if we got tired of the local ones. I love it here, but I sure do miss Italian food.
posted by Frowner at 1:27 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Whilst reading through this document searching for what the heck standard asparagus could mean, I found that OG procures "dishwasher safe" to-go containers. This is saving them money in what universe?

Man, sometimes I feel like I could take over the business world with a butter knife.
posted by blurker at 1:28 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


The waiter asked if we'd like to sample their newest wine.

"Many authority on the subject consider house wines to be extremely recent."
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've eaten food in Baltimore's Little Italy that was no better than Olive Garden. My experience is that in the US, most Italian 'red check tablecloth' restaurants are pretty mediocre, even if they are family run.

Pittsburgh's is the same way. There are some really terrible red sauce joints that have just been around forever and people keep going to them out of tradition or some genetic memory that they were good fifty years ago.
posted by octothorpe at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


What surprises me about this is that a giant chain seems to have the same problems small places do when it comes to declining sales. Gordon Ramsey's show may be mostly fictional, but one thing he's not wrong about is that if you want people to eat in your restaurant the bare minimum is to serve freshly prepared food on clean plates by friendly, competent people in a room with at least a modicum of comfort and atmosphere. No amount of gimmicks are going to bring someone back through the door if the food is bad, the place isn't clean and comfortable, or the staff are sullen or indifferent.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:34 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Reading about how apparently everyone's parents and grandparents enjoy Olive Garden, I'm wondering if chain restaurants are going to struggle more as everyone's parents and grandparents start eating at the great Olive Garden in the sky. My father is Italian. He likes Olive Garden, Buca di Beppo, and Fazzoli's.

Personally, I don't mind chain restaurants. I don't mind McDonald's on occasion. Sometimes I want to punish my insides with over-salted French fries and a small bucket of Diet Coke. I haven't gone to OG often but I remember enjoying the breadsticks (salty and delicious), salad (a little over-dressed and delicious), and chocolate lasagna (laughably inauthentic but still it was chocolate cake and I like chocolate cake). I also had some alcoholic drink that was too sweet for a normal person but again, that's my taste (or lack thereof).

Anecdote: I had to go to Indianapolis for work. My mother in law encouraged me to check out this hilarious Italian restaurant that she enjoyed because it was kitschy and had goofy decorations. "It has a funny name." "Buca di Beppo?" "How did you know????"
posted by kat518 at 1:34 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I had a good chuckle over the powerpoint's repeated use of the word "authentic" also, but on second thought, and even reading through this thread, I think they've got a point --- if one of the big things driving customers through the door is familiarity and comfort, then there 's a point where diversifying the menu has diminishing returns. No one's going to Olive Garden for rabbit ragout, but no one's going to Olive Garden for Blazin' Buffalo Chicken Bites either.
posted by Diablevert at 1:39 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do "Irish" pubs next!
posted by b1tr0t at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've never eaten at Olive Garden... or Cheesecake Factory.

Do they serve different demographics? Could Olive Garden, with different corporate chefs, with a different menu, remake itself in Cheesecake Factory's direction in a relatively short amount of time? What differentiates the two?
posted by Auden at 1:45 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


In defense of inauthenticity, there's something to be said for being the sort of place you can take that one coworker who refuses to eat anything that isn't a burger.
posted by ckape at 1:50 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


THIS THREAD IS MAKING ME THIRSTY!
posted by General Tonic at 1:52 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


What does "authentic Italian" mean? My guess is the food in the Southern part of Italy is vastly different from that in the Northern part or from region to another, anyway. How about "authentic American" food? Not even burgers are the same from one restaurant to another, let alone from coast to coast, etc.

I don't care if the food is authentic Italian - it's Olive Garden and a good place for lunch. We have other "Italian" places here, but the price is twice that of OG and not necessarily more palatable. Olive Garden beats the socks off the old standby Spaghetti Factory, but both get enough business to keep going here in Spokane.

We have so many restaurants here who serve "authentic" Asian food and others that serve "authentic" Mexican food. Are they really more "authentic" than Olive Garden for Italian food? Somehow I just doubt it.

Leggo my Olive Garden!
posted by aryma at 1:53 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


ckape: "In defense of inauthenticity, there's something to be said for being the sort of place you can take that one coworker who refuses to eat anything that isn't a burger."

Hey, I worked with that guy too.
posted by octothorpe at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy crap! I just dug into the PDF to see what the hub-bub was about, and found out that Darden's *real estate* is estimated to be worth *$3 BILLION*
posted by scolbath at 1:57 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


Auden: Do they serve different demographics? Could Olive Garden, with different corporate chefs, with a different menu, remake itself in Cheesecake Factory's direction in a relatively short amount of time? What differentiates the two?

They're totally different approaches. Cheesecake Factory is slightly more upscale, and has a menu with like 200 items (I'm not kidding) from about a dozen different styles of cuisine. They do small plates, "Mexican", "Chinese", and of course plenty of meat-and-potatoes American entrees. I don't see how they could meaningfully copy anything from CF's approach and still have it be an Italian restaurant.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:57 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Best bet now is spinning things as "fusion".

On the bright side, the Tapas trend is gone, at least here
posted by thelonius at 1:58 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I found that OG procures "dishwasher safe" to-go containers. This is saving them money in what universe?

It doesn't save OG money. It does, however, endear them to their to-go customers who wash and re-use those containers. My local thai restaurant uses dishwasher-safe to-go containers, too. I have a nice, handy stack of them on my kitchen shelf. It's subtle marketing.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:10 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


> ... Darden's *real estate* is estimated to be worth *$3 BILLION*

You should take a look at Harvard University, known locally as a real estate empire that also runs a school for the good publicity it generates.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Phunniemee: I've never worked in retail or food service, but I just fucking love the stories I hear. People get their hours futzed with all the time, get their schedules changed unpredictably, work ridiculous shifts, and they won't even hire enough employees to actually staff their restaurant. A one-two punch of abuse the employees you have and don't provide jobs to able workers.

I've worked several foodservice jobs, and a lot of my friends work or have worked at everywhere from $15 minimum cocktail upscale fine dining places(some of which were in very expensive neighborhoods) to buttholes.

The places that are NOT run this way are huge exceptions. Even the places that are high end and raved about for their great food are run completely fucking stupidly like this. Even places that make a lot of money.

There seems to just be something about running a restaurant and being a penny pinching cheapass tightwad. It's balancing on a razors edge too, because everyone does it, but if you do it just a tiny bit too much either your head chef or half/all of your staff bails to go get treated some tiny degree less shit somewhere else.

It's simultaneously funny and depressing as hell to watch, and in a similar superposition i can hear infinity of and am completely tired of the stories.

Soooo much crap like being hired into a new mid shift the owners decided they needed to cover the morning/lunch rush, and then once mids being there smoothed everything out "why do we need mids? everyone isn't working non stop 100% of the time rushing as hard as they can, it's obviously a waste of money, get rid of mids".

It seems like owning/running a food place is like being a really boisterously, overconfident, drunk idiot. Which i mean, makes sense. Because a lot of restauranteurs are totally crunked out all the time.(especially my aunt who owns a wine bar+restaurant. i don't think she's been sober since the 90s. and sooo much drama)
posted by emptythought at 2:18 PM on September 15, 2014 [10 favorites]


Holy crap! I just dug into the PDF to see what the hub-bub was about, and found out that Darden's *real estate* is estimated to be worth *$3 BILLION*

Wait until you check out McDonald's. They're north of $40 billion.
posted by JoeZydeco at 2:23 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm totally on Darden's board side but the idea of Tuscan hummus is hilarious.
posted by nooneyouknow at 2:26 PM on September 15, 2014


i know it's cool to hate on OG, but i've done a couple of motel phases where i welcomed its moderately tasty, moderately priced "cuisine". one time at the table directly behind me, a manager was explaining wine service to a group of underage waitresses. when i couldn't stand it anymore, i turned around and told them "there's only one way you learn about wine - one bottle at a time."
posted by bruce at 2:27 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


You should take a look at Harvard University, known locally as a real estate empire that also runs a school for the good publicity it generates.

And they don't even pay property tax!
posted by smackfu at 2:28 PM on September 15, 2014


Is anyone else's bullshit detector screaming about that pot warranty thing? Commercial large pots are big hunks of 304 stainless steel. They're pretty much bulletproof, esp. a pasta pot that's going to see no temperatures above 212F, thanks to the water inside of them.

So, really? You're not adding salt because a warranty on a pot that will easily last 10 years in a commercial environment? Really?
posted by eriko at 2:33 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


b1tr0t: “Do "Irish" pubs next!”
“Ireland's "Crack" Habit,” Austin Kelley, Slate, 16 March 2006

q.v. Irish Pub Concept.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:36 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


tonycpsu: I think there's kind of an Arby's effect going on where people are overstating how bad Olive Garden is.

And i think there's kind of a backlash where people don't take criticism of arby's seriously anymore because they think people are just hopping on the wagon. It's seriously the most depressing fast food chain. Every time i've eaten there has been because it was there, and open and i thought i didn't want something worse. And every time, without fail, it's made me feel totally gross after i ate it or i've had some from dusk til dawn type experience like when i was in nowhereland oregon and all the counter girls tried to really creepily seduce me and my friend when we were like, 17 and 18. I thought they were going to cook us, or feed on our blood, or something.

ensign_ricky: Seriously, are restaurants that different from retail? Is there a place in the market for a high quality / high touch restaurant that works off the theory that additional employees = happy customers = higher revenue?

First of all, there's a lot more tax/etc wise to having another employee than paying another $2.13 an hour or whatever. Not that it's a good excuse at all, but it's not just that.

Second, restaurant owners whether it's a single family place or a huge chain seem to be all about false economies. They're all about how something feels, not whether it makes actual sense. If it costs more now/for X amount of time but will make them more money later it's super duper hard to get them to do it, and even if they do they'll often bail in the middle stage where it's costing them money.

Basically what i'm saying is that i can't think of another field, besides bullshit vanity business "boutique" retail, where people have less actual business smarts/training/experience. Even a goddamn babysitter, having been an independent contractor of sorts, has a better understanding of how a business works than most people who take out a loan(or much, much more often have money from family/spouse/some job in which they made good money but didn't have to learn shit about running a business) and decide that it's their dream to start a restaurant.

I swear to god there should be some requirement that you hire someone, who has veto power over your decisions, who has a minimum of say 5 years of successful experience as a consulstant to be co-operator with you for like the first 4-5 years you run a restaurant or retail shop. That banks don't require this when this type of loan is dischargeable in bankruptcy dept blows my fucking mind.

And no, no they are not different from retail. The biggest difference is that the type of person who runs them can't run a business usually. And that, if your foods good, you can coast on that for a very long time unless you're snorting all the money up your nose. It's a weird corner of business where if what your selling is truly good, you can keep your head above water even when making fantastically awful business decisions and it's very, very toxic to employees and makes owners way too cocky.
posted by emptythought at 2:38 PM on September 15, 2014 [13 favorites]


Call me a snob, but I have a hard and fast rule to avoid any eatery with the word 'factory' in it.
posted by el io at 2:38 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


My very vague understanding is that restaurant pasta is cooked in a stand-alone device that has the heating element built in rather than being a pot on the stove?
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:38 PM on September 15, 2014


yeah the mister and I have eaten at the OG a few times on vacation because of exactly what other people are saying - they are predictable, you know exactly what you're getting w/r/t food allergies, etc., and they're cheap. When I was much less flush their soup/salad/breadsticks lunch was a go-to fave for those days when I couldn't brown bag it or didn't have food at home. I could eat enough on $8 to skip dinner and still be full. As a former indentured servant of the food service industry I could only wish that the restaurant industry in general was less awful, but then, $8 AYCE lunches, so, yeah.

oh and mediocre chain notwithstanding, they STILL serve better "Italian" food than the gawdawful excuse for 70's Godfather-movie-nostalgia that is Pasta Jay's in Boulder - whose only questionably redeeming characteristic is that it's locally-owned. I've seriously never understood how that place stays in business, much less has an endless line out the door every night of the week. it is unabashedly terrible in every way that actually matters, including multiple warnings by the health inspectors not to mention having had their liquor license suspended a time or 2 for selling to underage students.
posted by lonefrontranger at 2:46 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm consistently surprised by how bad their eggplant parmigiana isn't.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:47 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


The cheapness is easier to understand when you look at the numbers. An Olive Garden's profit margin is like 4% max. Margins in the restaurant business are famously terrible, and the bust rate is 60%. The saving grace of the restaurant business is booze, where the profit margin is well over 50%. If you're not pouring, you're failing.

Every restaurant knows it can't survive without a chef; more than half of them don't know they can't survive without a team accountant.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:49 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


They have more vegetarian options than any other chain, and almost all non-chains too. Useful when I'm going out with 10 people, 7 of whom are vegetarian. (This is a pretty common situation, a lot of my friends and colleagues are Hindu/Buddhist/Jain/Jewish and keep kosher). It sucks to go to a place and everyone has to order the ONE vegetarian thing on the menu.
posted by miyabo at 2:56 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I think there's kind of an Arby's effect going on where people are overstating how bad Olive Garden is.

I think so too. The words that most frequently described their pasta in that poll were "dry" and "overcooked". Since those are mutually exclusive in this case, I think people are just using whatever negative adjectives are available.

As far as the "authentic Italian" thing goes, here in this town it likely wouldn't fly, so Kickin' Alfredo Krunchers and Melty-Minestrone Dunkers with Marinara Shooters it is.
posted by sourwookie at 3:17 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm totally on Darden's board side

Not sure what that means, except you think there's absolutely no validity to any of the Starboard presentation's criticisms. I think the breadsticks criticism - they should keep giving out free breadsticks but better train their staff to follow the 10-year-old rule that you give 1 breadstick more than the number of people at the table, then check in regularly if folks want more, instead of dumping huge amounts of breadsticks on the table and ignoring it for a while - is pretty reasonable. Read the breadsticks slide if you don't read anything else; it's being misrepresented in the press as "NO MORE FREE BREADSTICKS? OUTRAGEOUS!" but actually seems fair (scroll down to the first slide here).

There are problems with the presentation that the gushing in the business press is ignoring (I'd be skeptical about how they used Yelp reviews) but if I had stock in Darden I'd think the points about 1) real estate and 2) lower-than-industry-average-pay for the general managers who actually run the restaurants while maintaining an extravagant corporate HQ are definitely worth discussing, instead of a simple dismissal of everything in the presentation and apparent approval of every decision "Darden's board" has ever made.
posted by mediareport at 3:23 PM on September 15, 2014


I'm totally on Darden's board side

Not sure what that means

It means that I'm viewing this essentially as a sport and am rooting for Darden (because they seem to care slightly more for their employees than the average megacorp and they have OG make some stuff in-house instead of buying from Sysco), the same way I rooted for the Kings in the Stanley Cup because I liked their uniforms better than the Rangers. Also, the Kings really need to bring purple back into their uniforms.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:28 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


nah - if you look at the presentation Darden pays significantly less than the peer group. Actually part of Starboards schtick is that they'll reduce staff turnover. They also just sold Red Lobster to an entity that probably will financially engineer the shit out of it until it goes to zero.

I'm voting for none of the above BTW.

I actually think this is kinda slightly better than average activism, but the slide deck should really be "these guys suck, these are the guys we want you to hire to replace them" - 20 pages. Done.
posted by JPD at 3:34 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


YES I FOUND IT, this is the best olive garden story ever. It's also a great restaurant story.(and also a look through the time window back into when askreddit used to have interesting stories and not just made up garbage, sigh)

You would also be really horrified if you knew the number of friends i have who have the no water/broken walk in but they wouldn't let us close story. Also worth noting that the "buffet" that replaced olive garden in that story has like, more health violations than any other restaurant in the city. That space is cursed.

George_Spiggott: The distinction between OG and an Italian Restaurant is not the food, it's that it's EZ 2 Spot from the freeway, EZ 2 Drive 2 on nice curvy sprawl roads, EZ 2 Park in their big roomy lots (as compared to scary street and alley parking at the real places)

Another thing to note on this, is that a least in rural places the drivers test is often literally that india-style "drive down this road, now signal and turn, now drive down this road, now turn around and go back to the main road, wait at the light, and turn to keep going the direction you were going in the first place... you pass!"

You aren't even really tested on parallel parking because there's nowhere to do that out there. And you aren't tested on parking in lots because those aren't on public roads! If your parents don't teach you, you wont even really get that either.

My friends who grew up in the boonies basically talk about how no one can drive. Some of them are fucking great drivers because they had to drive all the time to get anywhere or do anything, and visited the city a lot... but a hell of a lot of people aren't just out of apathy and inexperience. And why deal with the scary kind of driving if they don't have to? A lot of the market "lock in" these places have is through that.
posted by emptythought at 3:37 PM on September 15, 2014 [12 favorites]


Is anyone else's bullshit detector screaming about that pot warranty thing? Commercial large pots are big hunks of 304 stainless steel. They're pretty much bulletproof, esp. a pasta pot that's going to see no temperatures above 212F, thanks to the water inside of them.

So, really? You're not adding salt because a warranty on a pot that will easily last 10 years in a commercial environment? Really?


Its not a pot, its one of these

and if I had to guess its on the element, which is this stuff.

I mean I'm sure its a penny wise pound foolish thing, but I don't think its a lie.
posted by JPD at 3:40 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


I loathe Olive Garden for a very specific reason: after my daughter was diagnosed with fructose malabsorption disorder, I wrote to all the chain restaurants we're in the habit of visiting on occasion to find out which of them had sauces and bread products made with high fructose corn syrup. That's information that's often hard to get from the wait staff, because this isn't a common question like gluten or nuts or whatever, and it requires running back, so I figured I'd just get it all up front and keep it in a Dropbox document that we could reference before going out. Nearly everyone was great -- Red Robin followed up my email with a phone call to make sure that I had the information I needed, and P.F. Chang responded not just with menu items that had HFCS or honey or fruit juice, but also things that were high in fructans or fructo-oligosaccharides -- they were clearly familiar with the disorder.

Olive Garden? Olive Garden wrote back and said "sorry, we don't have access to that information." Red Lobster, too. I was like "The fuck you don't! You don't know what's in the food you serve? Assholes." I was never fond of OG but they are open and they have a kid's menu and sometimes that's what you're up for. But they lost me as a customer in that moment, forever.
posted by KathrynT at 3:53 PM on September 15, 2014 [14 favorites]


The words that most frequently described their pasta in that poll were "dry" and "overcooked". Since those are mutually exclusive in this case, I think people are just using whatever negative adjectives are available.
Unless there is a different problem - inconsistent food and experiences between establishments/shifts/cooks.
posted by el io at 3:56 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Huh. Yardhouse is owned by the same people - that explains why I dislike Yardhouse so much.
posted by ApathyGirl at 4:05 PM on September 15, 2014


Dry and overcooked can totally happen if your pasta is overcooked, then sat under a heat lamp until the edges are leathery.
posted by blnkfrnk at 4:07 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


tight length and spear spec
posted by standardasparagus at 4:15 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm very curious about The Olive Garden, just because I love pasta and am intrigued by their "endless pasta" dealio. Surely their pasta must be halfway decent.

Thorzdad wrote:

All I will say is the Lasagna Fresca with Shrimp was goddamned great, and I don't care how inauthentic it was.

I would love to try this. But my partner will never, ever ever ever step foot in there. Damn.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 4:18 PM on September 15, 2014


So a server person sits my family at a table in an empty part of Olive Garden. Frigid arctic air is blasting down on the table. My Dad, who had terminal cancer, is shivering. In fact, we're all freezing. "Please, can we move to another table?" The server sighs tiredly and moves us across the aisle to a slightly less frigid table. The next family to come in is seated...at the freezing table. They are more vocal. "It's goddamn freezing at this table. Move us!" They get moved. So the evening goes on, each new group being seated at this oh-so-uncomfortable table, then complaining and getting reseated by a pissed-off server. And I'm imagining this happens day after day, week after week. I wonder if it's still happening?
posted by jabah at 4:20 PM on September 15, 2014 [11 favorites]


A Chow video review of a couple of things from The Olive Garden - dude reviews from his car. Watch as driver in the car adjacent enters their car, unaware there's filming going on next to them.

[Heh.]
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 4:45 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Starboard should go after The Cheesecake Factory next, starting with: It's not a factory
posted by Spatch at 4:47 PM on September 15, 2014 [5 favorites]


Get drunk and fuckin rip on Olive Garden.

I would do this for the cost of the booze, no need to pay me anything else.

I think food science is changing its mind about salted water (and also about the rolling boil). I believe Alton Brown has recently retracted his previous backing of the conventional wisdom, going so far as saying you do not need to cook one family meal of pasta in 6 quarts of rolling sea-saline water. I've heard someone else say the same, but I can't remember who (Kenji Lopez-Alt maybe?).

Yeah. You add salt to pasta water for flavour only, it has no effect on temperature. Rolling boil + large volume of water is only to prevent noodles from sticking to each other; anything around a simmer also works fine, just stir. It was indeed KLA who covered this on Serious Eats.

I'm pretty sure it's been scientifically proven a couple times now that salting pasta water has little to no significance toward how it cooks or tastes.

Temperature has little difference; you can 'cook' pasta overnight in room-temperature water. (Dried pasta, not fresh). But yes, it makes a difference in flavour. You can taste-test for yourself at home.

My guess is the food in the Southern part of Italy is vastly different from that in the Northern part or from region to another, anyway.

Cuisine in Italy is highly regional; it can even differ in significant ways from one village to the next. What you're going to get in Sardinia is different than in Florence than in Milan. What most people in North America think of as 'Italian' cuisine is actually Tuscan. In the mid-to-south-ish, you're going to get more of what we consider Italian; tomatoes and olive oil and garlic. On the coasts, it's heavily seafood-influenced. If you go way up north, a lot of the food is going to be virtually indistinguishable from German or Provencal cuisine. (Ask me what my major research project in culinary school was about.) For a really stark lesson on the regionality of Italian cuisine, dig up episodes of Two Greedy Italians, which for my money is one of the best cooking/travel shows ever created.

I had a boss, before changing careers, who thought she Knew Food.

Her favourite restaurant? Alice goddamn Fazooli's. The horror, the horror.

tight length and spear spec

I may have seen this film
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:50 PM on September 15, 2014 [9 favorites]


"hey, you're not the regular meat delivery boy"

[muffled sexy music playing in the distance]

posted by poffin boffin at 4:53 PM on September 15, 2014 [6 favorites]


jabah: So a server person sits my family at a table in an empty part of Olive Garden. Frigid arctic air is blasting down on the table. My Dad, who had terminal cancer, is shivering. In fact, we're all freezing. "Please, can we move to another table?" The server sighs tiredly and moves us across the aisle to a slightly less frigid table. The next family to come in is seated...at the freezing table. They are more vocal. "It's goddamn freezing at this table. Move us!" They get moved. So the evening goes on, each new group being seated at this oh-so-uncomfortable table, then complaining and getting reseated by a pissed-off server. And I'm imagining this happens day after day, week after week. I wonder if it's still happening?

Are you sure you didn't dimension hop into seinfield? because that's like, one of the most costanza story/seinfield things i've heard in a REALLY long time.
posted by emptythought at 5:12 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: A grim, hastily-constructed concrete building behind the Bob Evans.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 5:30 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


oh and mediocre chain notwithstanding, they STILL serve better "Italian" food than the gawdawful excuse for 70's Godfather-movie-nostalgia that is Pasta Jay's in Boulder - whose only questionably redeeming characteristic is that it's locally-owned. I've seriously never understood how that place stays in business, much less has an endless line out the door every night of the week.

I've still never been to an OG, but I am absolutely with you on Pasta Jay's, that place is just terrible. I'm told there's decent Italian down in Denver, but Boulder is a post-apocalyptic wasteland for pasta. And now I'm really craving a carbonara.
posted by amorphatist at 5:37 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]



I've had some really, really terrible Italian food here in Minnesota, and it's a huge crying shame. In the suburb where I grew up, there were something like three really good Italian restaurants, and we could drive to another four or five if we got tired of the local ones. I love it here, but I sure do miss Italian food.


Bar La Grassa: some of the best Italian food I've had anywhere.
posted by gyc at 5:41 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I live in north jersey, and so for obvious reasons have never entered an Olive Garden restaurant. But I feel this is a relevant derail.

A nearby IHOP was remanagemented/renovated in the last few months. We (self and selfmate) eat in IHOP about once every two years--when we have something to do in the surrounding shops. This happened last Saturday.

The experience was unexpected. We arrived about noon. The place was full--every table occupied or recently vacated. We were the sixth group on the wait list, and were told it would be about 10 minutes. It was. And when we were seated, only two more groups had entered.

And now, the point of this rambling note. We ordered off the photo-filled menu, not expecting much. Chicken Florentine Crepesfor me, Berries & Cream waffles for SO. They were not wonderful--they were pretty bland. Pepper transformed the crepes into peppery crepes. This was well into the realm of 'OK food'. We were happy.

But that is not what I am writing about. I am writing about the presentation:

The food did not look like the photos on the menu. The photos on the menu were miserable representations of the food we were served! That's right. The actual served dishes looked better than the photos! If you look at the image on the crepes link above, the real crepes were a more attractive golden color than the wan image shows. Perhaps the chef is an unemployed lighting technition? I don't know.

I will note that the IHOP is in Arlington Plaza (a mall) on Rt 46, Parsippany NJ.
Also home to a Staples, Hope Depot, Shop Rite, KMart, and numerous smaller businesses, including Noodle Chu Sea Food & (Sunday)Dim Sum slightly-expensive-but-hell-you-are-not-driving-into-nightmare-manhattan-and-trying-to-park restaurant. The waiter was obviously eager to laugh at us for getting the chicken feet, but sadly for him, SO & my eastern european backgrounds consider chicken feet perfectly normal food. We demolished the delicious battered dish.
But those cold flat noodles! Ugh.
posted by hexatron at 6:01 PM on September 15, 2014


ckape: "In defense of inauthenticity, there's something to be said for being the sort of place you can take that one coworker who refuses to eat anything that isn't a burger."

octothorpe: "Hey, I worked with that guy too."

I am that guy. :-/
posted by theartandsound at 6:09 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I always think of something I read years ago - was it Dave Barry, maybe? - that what Americans want is consistency. They don't want to go someplace they haven't been, where they don't know if the food is going to be very good or very bad or what. They want to go to a chain, where they *know* the food will be mediocre.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:10 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am that guy. :-/

Please stop coming to lunch with us!
posted by amorphatist at 6:14 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


Call me a snob, but I have a hard and fast rule to avoid any eatery with the word 'factory' in it.

I was walking past a small town pizza joint called "pizza factory". you could see everything in the place from the front window and I was extremely disappointed to find that there was no pizza machine dropping out pizzas like some alien hive queen...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:30 PM on September 15, 2014


> Call me a snob, but I have a hard and fast rule to avoid any eatery with the word 'factory' in it

Similarly, I avoid any restaurant with the word "eatery" in it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:41 PM on September 15, 2014


>I'm told there's decent Italian down in Denver, but Boulder is a post-apocalyptic wasteland for pasta. And now I'm really craving a carbonara.

I know, right? There used to be a relatively decent northern italian place with a great wine bar just north of McGuckins in that quasi-strip-mall parking lot hell near the Marriott. But they closed down because apparently Boulder can only be arsed to do shitty red-sauce Italian or failing that, brewpubs full of smelly hippies.

ask me how bitter I am about our music "culture" in this town, go on I dare you...
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:44 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Personally I find Olive Garden ok but not great; it's a perfect place to go to with the inlaws or with super picky people who like predictable food, and I've never had anything other than determinedly ok food there.

(also, interesting cultural phenomenon I've noticed. "Standard Italian-American food" is increasingly connected as Old People Food.)

The trajectory is Exotic Food to Ethnic food to Mainstream Food to Old People Food. Red sauce Italian is well into Old People Food now; Tex-Mex is Mainstream and in a decade or so will be Old. Pho has moved from Exotic to Ethnic and is one successful chain restaurant away from being Mainstream.

There are a lot of Americans who can only afford a $20-30pp meal on special occasions. If you don't often eat in table-service restaurants, are you going to choose Giovanni's - which you have driven by, it seems dark inside, you may not know anyone who's ever eaten there, and the menu may have a lot of things you're not sure you like to eat or take a $20 chance on not liking - or the nicely-lit standardized restaurant with a bunch of people always standing around outside on weekend nights, where all the commercials have friendly servers and happy scrubbed smiling customers.

This is so, so true and gets left out of many conversations about food and eating out. I recall movies in the 1980s and 1990s often having a "restaurant anxiety" scene -- where the waiter laughs because you mispronounce something, or the bill comes and you can't afford it after ordering from a menu with no prices listed. Those are funny to watch, but if your budget is limited and you aren't a person who eats out every day then those anxieties are very real. Places like Olive Garden take that stress away and are completely transparent and explicit about what the experience will be, what it will cost, and how you will be welcomed.

The waiter asked if we'd like to sample their newest wine. I said sure. He brought me a tiny thimble of it. I tasted it. It was OK but I declined to order a glass. We eat our food. We get our bill and those fuckers charged me TWENTY-FIVE CENTS FOR THEIR SHITTY THIMBLE OF WINE. They never told me the "sample" was not free, either in general or if I didn't then order a glass. Fuck them forever for that stupid sneaky nickel and dime. If you can't afford to give out a free "sample" without going under, then don't give out samples!!

They might have been assholes, but in some places (less so now than in the past, but still the case sometimes) it may not be legal to give out free alcohol, so they have to charge a nominal fee for a taster. The US has weird alcohol laws and it can vary by county and even local jurisdiction, so you run into oddities like this sometimes. Or again, they might have been jerks.

Another thing to note on this, is that a least in rural places the drivers test is often literally that india-style "drive down this road, now signal and turn, now drive down this road, now turn around and go back to the main road, wait at the light, and turn to keep going the direction you were going in the first place... you pass!"

That was exactly my driving test, but with a parallel parking test at the end (out of the lot, around the block with one red light on the way, back into the lot, park between cones, and everyone passes.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:47 PM on September 15, 2014 [7 favorites]


I eat at OG twice a year at most, but enjoy it every time. The Portabello Ravioli rocks. Who cares that it is not authentic Italian? Olive Garden serves its purpose and (I think) does it well. I am surprised to keep seeing articles that they are struggling. Every time I am there, they seem to have plenty of business.
posted by ainsley at 6:55 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The painful thing about Olive Garden, the thing that makes it a target of legitimate hatred -- and should be considered somewhat distinct from the unpleasant class-conscious oh isn't that where the proles go for their big night out? tut-tutting -- isn't that it's simply bad, it's that it's bad but has within its reach to be so much better.

For instance, they serve exceptionally terrible pasta. It would not be particularly difficult to serve good pasta. And I don't mean homemade gnocci here, I mean dry-from-a-box pasta. My family is English and I grew up believing that anything that is boiled for 10 minutes can be made twice as good by boiling it for 20, and even I, admittedly after some remedial instruction, can make goddamn pasta. Here's the trick: you get a big pot of water, you put a fuckload of salt in the water, you get the water to a hard boil, and you boil the pasta for the amount of time on the package. No more, no less. Strangely, the people who make dried pasta actually seem to have a pretty good idea how much time to cook it.

Plus or minus the extended warranty on their pasta pots (who gets a warranty on a pasta pot?), it would cost OG nothing to do this right. But they don't, and that's the part that I think offends the sensibilities of many. Not so much that they're a middlebrow Italianesque restaurant, but they're a middlebrow Italianesque restaurant that doesn't seem to even be trying.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:57 PM on September 15, 2014 [8 favorites]


It's amusing that we simultaneously have this thread with the, as Kadin2048 put it, "class-conscious oh isn't that where the proles go for their big night out? tut-tutting" and another thread with a "look at the pretentious crap rich people eat" theme.

I happen to enjoy both Olive Garden and Joël Robuchon, thank you very much. But this slide deck was incredibly amusing anyway.
posted by primethyme at 7:31 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


Haters gonna hate. Next thing you know, someone's going to try and tell me that the day of the week still changes when I'm at TGIFriday's.
posted by 4ster at 7:31 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


Plus or minus the extended warranty on their pasta pots (who gets a warranty on a pasta pot?), it would cost OG nothing to do this right. But they don't, and that's the part that I think offends the sensibilities of many.

That's just it. They had some MBA do the math, figure out the costs of pot replacement vs. lost sales and... The Aristocrats!
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:41 PM on September 15, 2014


There used to be a relatively decent northern italian place with a great wine bar just north of McGuckins in that quasi-strip-mall parking lot hell near the Marriott. But they closed down because apparently Boulder can only be arsed to do shitty red-sauce Italian or failing that, brewpubs full of smelly hippies.

ask me how bitter I am about our music "culture" in this town, go on I dare you...


I put out the batsignal to a few friends, and was berated for overlooking Il Pastaio over near King Soopers. Will scope it out for lunch mañana and report back! I'll not mention the (music) war.
posted by amorphatist at 7:44 PM on September 15, 2014


I've never had a meal at Olive Garden that I hated but we only went there when we lived out in the 'burbs and didn't have any better choices to go do. Also, they only seem to live at strip malls and since we've switched to buying 95% of our goods online, we're just never near one.
posted by octothorpe at 7:51 PM on September 15, 2014


I always think of something I read years ago - was it Dave Barry, maybe? - that what Americans want is consistency. They don't want to go someplace they haven't been, where they don't know if the food is going to be very good or very bad or what. They want to go to a chain, where they *know* the food will be mediocre.


This is basically my mom. She freaks out every time we take her somewhere above the Applebee's/OG/TGI Friday's/Outback tier and it's just a question of whether we want to deal with her freaking out because we're eating veal or because there's a weird SAUCE oh my GOD what's that SAUCE and then there's WINE and YOU KNOW HOW TO ORDER WINE and fuck it let's just go to Applebee's it'll keep her quiet.

That said, though, I can tell you I've lived in a place where the Applebee's/TGI Friday tier of restaurant was pretty much the only thing there with the exception of one of those shitty small town places that was called something like "Maw's." I got their "Hawaiian Chicken" the one and only time we ate there. It was canned pineapple dumped on a chicken breast with the grill lines painted on. So yeah, we stuck to Applebee's/OG/TGIFridays.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's amusing that we simultaneously have this thread with the, as Kadin2048 put it, "class-conscious oh isn't that where the proles go for their big night out? tut-tutting" and another thread with a "look at the pretentious crap rich people eat" theme.

If it makes you feel better, we do occasionally also mock the restaurants that our type of people eat at, though I can't help but feel that that's more of an affectionate recognition of foibles thing without the reflexive upwards or downwards class sneer of either of today's threads.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:28 PM on September 15, 2014


one of those shitty small town places that was called something like "Maw's." I got their "Hawaiian Chicken" the one and only time we ate there. It was canned pineapple dumped on a chicken breast with the grill lines painted on.

Hawaiian chicken, at Maw's? That's not going to end well.

Known good indie place, you order the special. Known bad indie place, you order the thing they cook dozens of times every day.
posted by box at 9:09 PM on September 15, 2014


I've still never been to an OG, but I am absolutely with you on Pasta Jay's, that place is just terrible. I'm told there's decent Italian down in Denver, but Boulder is a post-apocalyptic wasteland for pasta. And now I'm really craving a carbonara.

I came here to mention Il Pastaio, but I see that amorphatist has beaten me to it.
posted by medusa at 9:10 PM on September 15, 2014


Yeah, one thing about Olive Garden (I can't call it OG, that reminds me of the homie Ice-T too much): there are some other Italian-ish chains that are even worse.
posted by box at 9:11 PM on September 15, 2014


I've never been in an Olive Garden but I've been to many OG Italian-American places that are just fucking crap and it's enough to make me deeply suspicious of any place that has a straight up "red-checkered tablecloth" menu.

although the presence of non-fried squid is still a bit of shibboleth.
posted by The Whelk at 9:25 PM on September 15, 2014


(that being said one of my favorite places on Earth is an actual red-sauce, red-checkered tablecloth place in a mini-mall in suburbian Connecticut where they have unlimited wife re-fills and all the food is really simple but hearty and good and I make an effort to go there if I'm ever within 30 miles of he place.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:29 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]


Hard to find a place with unlimited wife re-fills these days.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:33 PM on September 15, 2014 [19 favorites]


When my sister was in the hospital, the closest place to get a glass of wine was at the OG. We went, ordered a drink and, I think, spinach/artichoke dip. Took one bite and both my parents said, "We're leaving." It was absolutely disgusting. I hope they do turn it around and I hope the people who have run the company into the ground get theirs.
posted by buzzkillington at 9:34 PM on September 15, 2014


I am so psyched now that this deck has taught me the phrase "tax leakage."
posted by drowsy at 9:36 PM on September 15, 2014


I meant wine but you know , Connecticut.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 PM on September 15, 2014 [4 favorites]


@Whelk, don't keep that to yourself! At least give us the town and let us google for it!
posted by drowsy at 9:39 PM on September 15, 2014


NEVER
posted by The Whelk at 9:58 PM on September 15, 2014


And now I'm really craving a carbonara.

It's *really* simple to make a basic, super-tasty carbonara. Substitute some good bacon if need be, but check it out. Or this one with peas. Make it your own.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:15 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]


it's basically a ham and cheese sandwich but with sauce and pasta instead of bread.
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


The hardest part about making carbonara is the mixing in the egg bit, and if you can make frozen juice in a pitcher competently you're probably set. I seriously find it more annoying to make putanesca because you have to chop the anchovies and olives up all fine, and that's a "dump it all in a huge sauté pan and stir" meal.

My dad taught me how to make it when i was about 7, if that helps. Totally simple recipe with bacon and such. It's still one of my absolute favorite entres.

It's also really cheap, if you just use up all the ingredients and make a huge amount at a time. And it's still great microwaved.

I'm still kicking myself for not making it all the damn time in college. What the hell was i doing.
posted by emptythought at 11:35 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]


So a server person sits my family at a table in an empty part of Olive Garden. Frigid arctic air is blasting down on the table. My Dad, who had terminal cancer, is shivering. In fact, we're all freezing. "Please, can we move to another table?" The server sighs tiredly and moves us across the aisle to a slightly less frigid table. The next family to come in is seated...at the freezing table. They are more vocal. "It's goddamn freezing at this table. Move us!" They get moved. So the evening goes on, each new group being seated at this oh-so-uncomfortable table, then complaining and getting reseated by a pissed-off server. And I'm imagining this happens day after day, week after week. I wonder if it's still happening?

"Dude why did you turn the AC up again? It's freezing!"
"No man, it's a normal temperature now. It was roasting before"
"Look I keep telling you, your sense of temperature is way off. You keep making it too cold in here"
"No, fuck you I'm normal, you're the weird one"
"OK fine, leave this section freezing and if a single customer comes in and is happy to sit at this frozen-ass table you can have my tips for today"
"You're on!"
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:57 AM on September 16, 2014


I always think of something I read years ago - was it Dave Barry, maybe? - that what Americans want is consistency. They don't want to go someplace they haven't been, where they don't know if the food is going to be very good or very bad or what. They want to go to a chain, where they *know* the food will be mediocre.

Serious question, what happens in other countries? I always imagined French people mostly going to the same café or brasserie around the corner from their appartement, and the English doing the same thing with the pub that was built in the 1600s or whatever. Do they really go to new restaurants every week?
posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on September 16, 2014


London is a lot like NY/Chicago/LA in its rush to go to new foodie hotspots.

Europe its more like there is a big baseline of places that have been around for forever and a much smaller contingent of hot places to go. Like less than a handful of places "to go" every year.
posted by JPD at 7:57 AM on September 16, 2014


well based on the people here talking about how some places literally have no local-run non-chains I imagine it's more of "America is fairly unpopulated, lacks history, and people move around too much." thing.
posted by The Whelk at 8:00 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


well based on the people here talking about how some places literally have no local-run non-chains I imagine it's more of "America is fairly unpopulated, lacks history, and people move around too much." thing.

Having driven across America I go with this explanation. Having eaten at "real" locally-owned restaurants in Low Population, SD, they're terrible. Like not merely objectionable but awful. Don't hate Olive Garden without acknowledging that it exists and it exists for an actual real reason.
posted by GuyZero at 9:35 AM on September 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


London is a lot like NY/Chicago/LA in its rush to go to new foodie hotspots.

You take your grandmother to the new foodie hotspot for her birthday? Or when you both get home from work on a Tuesday night and there's nothing really good in the fridge and there's nothing on TV and fuck it, let's just go out?

Surely not everyone is eating at the new foodie hotspots. London's a big city and those places tend to only seat 23. Grandmothers are frequently not into molecular gastronomy.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2014


huh? just weird hostility. For the crowd that is into "food" - for lack of a better term - "foodies"
posted by JPD at 9:59 AM on September 16, 2014


Assuming you're in a city of size, there are huge gradations between Olive Garden and Foodie Hotspot. It's not even a single linear scale -- it's a huge panoply of cuisines, techniques, fusions, and quality that are available. Not to mention the swath of different markets (both stores and open-air) around, catering to every ethnicity, economic class, and whim.

Heck, in LA nowadays, you're more likely to find the foodies in line at a taco truck in Boyle Heights or a renovated market in Downtown than a highfalutin place in Beverly Hills or Hollywood.

So in the city, there's probably something even grandma will like that isn't Olive Garden or Molecular Gastronomy. Depending on the city. And the grandma.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Huh. Yardhouse is owned by the same people - that explains why I dislike Yardhouse so much.

I thought our local Yardhouse was pretty good until they got bought out by Darden. After that, it was a quick descent into the terrible category.
posted by malocchio at 12:13 PM on September 16, 2014


Darden should mine this thread for weak-sauce endorsements. I think a half-ironic, yet genuine ad campaign featuring Mefi members sort of endorsing/apologizing for Olive Garden could work.

"...wasn't great but it hit the right buttons for an old Italian-American."

"It's crap, but hey, the salad is fine and it's way better than Applebees..."

"Any chain that will let me eat three to five bowls of salad will always have my business."

"I've had way worse "Italian" food elsewhere, so I don't know..."

"Olive Garden provides decent value for food that ranges from 'meh' to actually pretty decent."

"Olive Garden isn't...terrible. I mean, it won't give you botulism."
posted by General Tonic at 12:59 PM on September 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


That sounds like something john oliver would do. He already turned the report into a faux-commercial.
posted by emptythought at 1:45 PM on September 16, 2014


Like about half of this thread, OG is where I go with my parents when we go out to eat (or Cheesecake Factory) because otherwise the other option is Applebees and I try to maintain my lingering hipster cred by refusing to step food into an Applebees unless I'm forced.

OG's not bad. I can get food I will enjoy there, my husband (of the multi-line food allergy list) can get food he enjoys there, and my parents (one of whom is pickier than the food-allergy-laden husband, and the other only had risotto for the first time in her life this year) and we're all happy and food and slightly tipsy.

(well, minus the picky eater, b/c he doesn't drink)

Like Starbucks, and Red Lobster and other big chains that are often pooped on for being consistent and everywhere, it's somewhere you can take non-adventurous people where the quality isn't bad, and you and they know there's something edible on the menu by even the most limited standards.

I don't love Starbucks for their quality, I only love Red Lobster for those biscuits dammit I need to make those at home, and I don't love OG for "italian food", but I can and will eat at those places when the other option is a prolonged fight with my parents over food. I'm thirty-freaking-seven, I don't have time for a food-related fight with old people.
posted by FritoKAL at 1:54 PM on September 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


FritoKAL, you can buy Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit mix.

Got a box for my husband, who'd spent the previous year futzing around with various internet recipes for cheddar bay biscuits. Alas, I cannot yet report back on whether they're anything like the restaurant biscuits, as he keeps forgetting that we own the mix. (and I'm pretty sure it's not "forgetting" we own it!)
posted by telophase at 2:04 PM on September 16, 2014


So in the city, there's probably something even grandma will like that isn't Olive Garden or Molecular Gastronomy. Depending on the city. And the grandma.

hell even in small, somewhat lame foodie cities like Boulder I can have everything from mass-produced shitty chain pizza-and-subs to artisanal pho or organic salads delivered to my doorstep by one of the "restaurant-runner" services that appear to be springing up everywhere in not completely rural areas, that's of course assuming I don't mind paying a nominal delivery fee ($5 in case of my preferred one).
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:54 PM on September 16, 2014


English doing the same thing with the pub that was built in the 1600s or whatever.

Pretty much that, but we have casual dining chains in the UK too. One of which is Frankie and Bennie's, which is New York Italian themed, and presumably guilty of all the sins listed above. Mostly, though, the sector seems to make pretty palatable food. As do most pubs, due to regulatory changes designed to stop them being owned by brewers which have left the majority of pubs owned by one of about 6 chains who'll have about 3 dining formats. The British pub as a reliable place to get a proper meal is effectively a 1990s invention, not a 1600s one. My local pub for casual dining says "since 1677" on the outside but in the last 50 years it's only been somewhere to get a meal since a 2009 reformatting.
posted by ambrosen at 4:48 PM on September 16, 2014


telophase: Alas, I cannot yet report back on whether they're anything like the restaurant biscuits

They're pretty good! Except for a bit of a difference in color, I'm not sure I could tell the difference between the ones we made and the ones in the restaurant in a blind taste test.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:54 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah actual *dining* in pubs is a more recent ish invention it seems, trying to call back to a idealized past of farm fresh foods, but all the best meals I had in the North of England where in pubs, great big lamb stews and the like.

As for eating with your parents. I just had this typical exchange

Mom: I want to take you out for your birthday! Anyplace you like!

Me: (knowing this is a lie) Okay how about-

Mom: But nothing too Werid, you know, just traditional American cusine nothing too "arty"-

Me: I know maybe-

Mom: Or like, super fancy or expensive, or loud, or you know I don't like to be fussed over, just a place I can get a salad and Scott can get a steak-

Me: You know you know the area well how about you pick?

Mom: I couldn't possibly! It's your birthday!

Me: I think I know just the place ( the BBQ faux pub we always go to when she visits, and have for a decade.)
posted by The Whelk at 5:02 PM on September 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


I would have a pretty hard time trying to edit my manifesto about how terrible the Olive Garden is down to 294 pages.

I've never tried it, but not because I understand it to be worthy of that much scorn. I imagine it more in the "mostly harmless" realm - perfectly mediocre and uninteresting, so, why spend money on it unless there just isn't anything else you can agree on.

But yeah, the key thing is, America just has terrible food. It is more expensive in Europe, and the portions are smaller, but their food usually tastes good. I have rarely had Italian food in America that was worth it (once in New York in a 2nd floor place in the east 30s?). Americans count on the cocktails and the entertainment.

I was a major hater of Starbucks until I went on a cross country trip after college (mid 90s) and discovered just how hard it could be to find a decent cup of coffee ...though, things have gotten better in local cafes since then, and maybe the same upswing is happening for local restaurants. Still. The bar is so low.
posted by mdn at 5:12 PM on September 16, 2014


A friend of mine proposed to his fiance at an Olive Garden.

At the time I thought it was hopelessly un-classy.

But then I was thinking that, of the hundreds of dates I've gone on with my wife, probably less than one in ten are still in business. Most of the hole-in-the-walls that we've shared special moments at are gone for good. The place we got engaged happens to still be around, but it's a weird place (upscale vegetarian) and it could easily go under soon.

Olive Garden will still be there in 50 years. Probably with mostly the same menu, too.
posted by miyabo at 9:47 PM on September 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


even in small, somewhat lame foodie cities like Boulder

In terms of food, Boulder is to most of the US like Everest is to Death Valley.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:01 PM on September 16, 2014


The scheme [Starboard Value]’s concocted to increase its share price has little to do with breadsticks and pasta water. It really wants to steal Olive Garden’s real estate, and make a billion dollars in the process.
posted by jeather at 1:58 PM on September 17, 2014


Thats....not really correct.

Starboard wants the board to sell its real estate and then lease it back - which only makes sense because the people who are willing to pay for the real estate are willing to pay a very high price and enter into long-term leases at low cap rates. I don't know what SV wants them to do with the cash - probably pay down corporate debt and then either buy back shares in the market or perhaps pay out a special dividend - but the value of any of those three transactions will accrue to the shareholders on a pro-rata basis.

I personally don't really get it, but calling it "stealing real estate" is incorrect.
posted by JPD at 2:36 PM on September 17, 2014


Olive Garden will still be there in 50 years. Probably with mostly the same menu, too.

Just like Howard Johnson's!
posted by entropicamericana at 2:49 PM on September 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


Justin McElroy is a national treasure.
posted by kmz at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2014


Oh my god, he looks nothing like I've imagined for all these hours of listening. Nothing.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2014




Olive Garden Illustrates Corporate America's Worst Financial Tendencies
The corporate dining titan behind Olive Garden is firing three of its top executives but paying them each millions of dollars to cushion the blow, according to a report from the Institute for Policy Studies.

Darden Restaurants will pay outgoing CEO Clarence Otis $36 million over the next two years - a weekly salary of more than $23,000 for doing nothing, plus multi-million gains on his stock options and two years of health insurance while the 58-year-old looks for his next job. Two other top executives are being sent away with $21 million and $11 million "golden parachutes" of their own.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:35 PM on October 6, 2014 [2 favorites]


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