Olive Garden has revamped its menu, making what it says are the most dramatic changes in its history.
The Italian chain owned by Orlando-based Darden Restaurants has added more than 20 dishes and is offering more ways to customize meals. Servers are also serving the noontime meal more quickly to customers in a hurry, the company said Tuesday.
The new lunch menu has a twist to its all-you-can-eat $6.99 soup, salad and breadsticks offer. For an extra $2.99, customers can add a pasta side, tapas-style small plate or a new salad topping. Diners can top the salads with Italian meats and cheese or roasted tomato caprese.
“Even really great menu items can get a little stale given enough years or decades,” said Mark Kalinowski, a restaurant analyst with Janney Capital Markets. “They’ve clearly looked at that and said, ‘we need to spice this up a little bit and make it different,’ and I applaud that.”
The lunch menu also has more sandwich and flatbread options, with combinations served with unlimited soup or salad and bread sticks.
Olive Garden has been making changes in an attempt to turn around declining sales.
Last week, Olive Garden sent out emails to Orlando customers urging them to be among the first to sample other new parts of the menu.
Those include a “Cucina Mia” dinner section in which customers can create their own entrees by choosing between six “artisanal” pastas, five sauces and several toppings. That costs $9.99.
Trying to lure customers who want a quicker meal, Olive Garden now is having servers hustle a little more for those in a rush.
“Above all, it’s about being attentive and responsive to the pace and type of experience the guest wants,” spokeswoman Tara Gray said in an email. “For example, for guests on the go, servers may suggest new lunch combinations that can be prepared and served quickly and offer to take guests’ orders right away. “
Servers are supposed to now immediately ask diners if they are in a hurry, check back more frequently and offer to deliver the check shortly after entrees arrive.
The new menu also has more chicken and seafood dishes with gourmet touches, prepared on a new flat-top grill for what Olive Garden says is “a more evenly cooked, tender and juicy taste.”
It also has more dishes on its lower-calorie menu and tapas-style small plates section, which debuted last year.
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