“Italian” Burger To Save Olive Garden’s Sales?

 In Be The Leader, Remarkability

Olive Garden is adding a burger to their menu – “The Italiano.” Research has informed them that they’re losing some customers to other fast-casual restaurants due to cravings for a hamburger. By adding a burger to the menu, Olive Garden hopes to get some of those customers back.


Olive Garden doesn’t have a missing-burger problem, they have an desirable-Italian-food problem.

Being Everything To Everyone

Olive Garden is falling into the trap of trying to be everything to everyone. Thinking… the more items we offer, the greater the chance to get another customer. It is a common mistake. Sounds logical, right? The more, different types of bait we have for our hook, the more fish we’ll catch?

While that may work for catching different types of fish, it doesn’t work to give your brand identity and purpose.

Olive Garden is causing additional harm to their tomorrow – their brand – in efforts to make needed sales today.

Olive Garden has set themselves apart as the Tuscan-inspired, genuine Italian dining experience. On their website they write about collaborating with their Italian Chef Council for menu items. They’ve even created the Culinary Institute of Tuscany to ensure their chefs understand the secrets of Italian cooking.

The challenge Olive Garden has always suffered from is the number of great, local, independent, authentic Italian restaurants. Olive Garden has a hard time competing with Cousin Vinny’s Pizza & Pasta. Adding a hamburger and french fries is not the way to get there.

By Fitting In, Olive Garden Isn’t Standing Out

Olive Garden same-store sales have declined 4% in the past year. According to a Bloomberg article, Olive Garden, owned by Darden Restaurants Inc, has seen shares increase 17%, while Brinker International (who owns Chili’s) has increased 51% and DineEquity Inc (who owns Applebee’s) increased 25%.

Olive Garden says the addition of a burger is part of their “ongoing brand transformation.”

Instead of focusing on standing out as an Italian concept, they think they need to fit in with Chili’s and Applebee’s. By trying to be everything to everyone Olive Garden will further lose their expertise and identity. And, by trying to fit in, they don’t stand out.

Olive Garden may get some of their regular customers to try the burger to add variety, but I don’t see the office gang – trying to decide where to go for lunch – say, “Hey, I could go for a great burger, let’s go to Olive Garden!”

What Should Olive Garden Do?

I get Olive Garden has to do something. However the adage “something is better than nothing” is not true when the something is going to cause a further loss of expertise, identity and cause them to blend in. That’s the wrong direction for a brand transformation. Here are strategies Olive Garden should pursue:

Excel at Being You, Instead of Trying To Be Them
Olive Garden asked the wrong research question. Instead researching why people are going to the competition, ask why customers aren’t coming to Olive Garden. I know that almost sounds like the same question. However instead of learning how to follow, Olive Garden would have learned how to lead.

Become the Destination for your Expertise
Olive Garden should focus on being the answer to: “I could go for great Italian for lunch today!” Be the Tuscan experience. Italian-ish condiments on an American burger is not the solution.

Be Locally Relevant
Olive Garden’s greatest competition is the local Italian restaurant. Why go to a chain restaurant when I can dine at the local place where the owner and chefs are off-the-boat from Italy? Olive Garden should use the size of their 832-units and big budget to out-Italian the local Italian restaurants.

  • Host and sponsor Italian festivals.
  • Have Fiat car give-away contest.
  • Remodel to make restaurants be different and local, not Italian cookie cutter.
  • Be the destination for the best, fresh-baked Italian pastries.
  • Host a chef-exchange program bringing Italian chefs from Italy to cook at US-based Olive Gardens.
  • Allow local differences in the menu offerings based on region, local taste preferences.

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This is a simul-post with our sister site Idea Sandbox.

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