Why Is Everybody Suddenly Talking About Olive Garden?

America, there is a battle being waged. A battle for the heart and soul of the Olive Garden. And consequently, everyone is very excited for this chance to talk about a restaurant chain that, when you weren’t looking, became the new Red Lobster. (In terms of its being a constant punchline.)

So here’s the deal: Darden Restaurants, whose flagship is the Olive Garden, is trying to pull itself out of a slump. Hence stunts like that Unlimited Pasta Pass. And there’s a hedge fund, Starboard Value LP, that owns a big chunk of the company and wants to seize control of the board of directors so it can enact its own turnaround plan. But that requires getting other investors’ votes.

Hence on Friday, Bloomberg News reports, Starboard dropped a 296-page report outlining all the things currently wrong with Olive Garden and what they’d do to fix it. It is a corker. Accusations include:

  • “Shockingly” (!!!!) Olive Garden doesn’t salt its pasta-water so they can get longer warranties on their pots, an “appalling decision.” That’s some real nickel-and-dime shit right there. The issue gets an entire slide, which informs that, “If you google ‘how to cook pasta’, the first step of Pasta 101 is to salt the water.”
  • The breadsticks basically taste like hot dog buns.
  • The implementation of the unlimited breadsticks is ALL WRONG: Too many servers just dump a bunch on the table willy-nilly, so patrons are left with a bunch of cold leftovers. They’re supposed to bring enough for everyone at the table, plus one extra.
  • You’d better sit down, but Olive Garden has lost touch with its Italian roots!!! The menu is crowded with random non-Italian dishes, like burgers and tapas. Needs more authenticity, according to Starboard.
  • For that matter, “‘Buy one entrée, take one home’ and other recent promotions appear to be inconsistent with Italian culture.” Okay?
  • Oh, and the food’s all garbage: “The pasta is overcooked with sauce simply ladled on top, breadsticks have lost their quality and specialty dishes have been replaced with unappealing and unhealthy choices.”

Included are several photos comparing website versions of dishes with dishes as they’re actually served in real American restaurants. It will kill any appetite you might have for Olive Garden:

All this is a beautiful example of the kinds of showmanship to which activist investors will turn when pulling these kinds of shenanigans. (I recommend this piece about Herbalife.) Financial reporters have taken the bait, flocking to lunch on their bosses’ dime to investigate these harsh claims. A team from Business Insider went out to a Manhattan Olive Garden and returned with a bunch of gross pictures and the conviction that the chain is in dire need of help. They didn’t even get Andes mints with their bill! The New Yorker also sent someone to her local Olive Garden; she found a mixed bag.For what it’s worth, Jezebel’s own Mark Shrayber fucking loves Olive Garden and would happily eat there every day. (I would not because I’m rather attached to regular bowel movements.)

Meanwhile, Today reports, Darden has fired back with its own (significantly less entertaining) slideshow refuting Starboard’s claims. Regarding the breadsticks, they say they “convey Italian generosity.” Who is the truest steward of Italian culture??? Somebody get Silvio Berlusconi on the horn!

The fact remains that the best American chain resturaunt is Logan’s Roadhouse, because they give you unlimited dried peanuts whose shells you can THROW ON THE FLOOR when you’re done. Darden and Starboard can both put that in their pipe and smoke it.

Photo via AP Images.

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