Imagine you own one of those restaurant chains, the kind you see clustered around suburban intersections. Some of the restaurants promote particular types of cuisines, like steaks or Mexican dishes or seafood. Others offer a more generic menu, and their hook is that you’ll have a fun time with fun people as you eat their cheeseburgers and fries. All of them, however, are competing for the business of middle class Americans — and the competition is fierce.
Olive Garden is one of the restaurants that is locked in that competition. It features Italian food in buildings that are supposed to look Italian, and its advertising shows happy, bright-eyed people eating different pasta dishes and soup and warm bread. But the ads aren’t working, apparently, and its CEO has decided it needs to do whatever it can to get more people into the restaurants. So, he’s decided to go with more low-cost meals to try to increase market share — a move that some analysts and observers have criticized.
I’ve never been to an Olive Garden restaurant, but when I read the story linked above I decided to take a peek at the comments. As I post this, there are 457 of them . . . and the lion’s share talk about the quality of Olive Garden’s food and service, not its prices. It’s fair to say that most of the comments aren’t very flattering about Olive Garden with respect to either category. In fact, they’re devastating, and could easily discourage other readers from every trying an Olive Garden in the first place.
What’s the lesson here? I think it’s a simple one that apparently has been lost in all of the CEO-type moves and advertising-driven management of chain restaurants: people go out to eat looking for good food, whether it costs $8.99 or $10.99 or $12.99. If your restaurant business is failing, you should look first to the quality, freshness, and taste of the dishes you’re offering to the public. If customers think the food is wretched, you’ll lose their business.
When did restaurants stop understanding that their business is, first and foremost, about the food?