A man really enjoying his Olive Garden meal. (John Greenough)
The situation for Olive Garden over the past several years did not look promising. Many of their restaurants were seeing declines in their earnings and initially the reasons why weren’t clear.
Obviously with the changes in the economy in 2008-2009, a portion of their sales slump was due in part to an overall decline in spending on casual dining. But the team at Olive Garden knew things ran deeper than just a shift in the marketplace.
After doing a thorough analysis, they found mistakes were being made that led to slower than normal service. To turn the numbers around, they overhauled their restaurants to emphasize convenience.
The changes have improved their numbers to the point that sales are now booming.
“The overall experience inside an Olive Garden is significantly better than it was 12 to 24 months ago,” Olive Garden CEO Gene Lee said during the company’s earnings call on Tuesday.
The pasta chain just posted its best quarterly sales performance in years, with same-store sales rising 6.8% in the quarter ended Feb. 28.
That marks Olive Garden’s sixth consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains after years of declines.
So what exactly did they change? Along with re-training for employees to improve their overall experience, Olive Garden simplified its menu and added tabletop tablets that customers use to order their food.
The result? Olive Garden is now closing checks seven minutes faster than in the past.
The company also invested heavily in marketing for its take-out menu, to highlight a more convenient and faster way for customers to consume Olive Garden.
Olive Garden’s to-go orders have soared more than 40% over the past two years as a result, and now represent nearly 11% of the chain’s total sales.
Several of Olive Garden’s most popular dishes. (Olive Garden/Facebook)
Now the company is expanding on their success to add large-party catering delivery, which Lee says is another way the chain is giving customers more convenience.
“We believe that this is a huge opportunity,” Lee said of the catering business. “The reception has been fantastic. Again, it’s been designed around this whole need for convenience.”
This is good news for the company but even better news for lovers of the brand. If you haven’t been to Olive Garden lately, it might be time to give them a whirl once again.