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Jul 24, 2011 07:27 PM

DARDEN Restaurants -- Interesting "Inside" Look

I found this article about Darden Restaurants interesting.

I recall a thread once about their Olive Garden chefs "studying in Italy." Here is the deal: ""Then executives formed a partnership with actual Italians: Olive Garden's Culinary Institute of Tuscany (CIT). It was a "stroke of genius," says Dennis Lombardi, a veteran food consultant. Eleven times a year, the company sends 14 top employees, many of whom have never set foot in Italy, to spend a week in an 11th-century village in Tuscany and learn from Sergio and Daniela Zingarelli, a husband and wife who operate a restaurant, winery, and inn. The couple and other local experts expose the Americans to everything from how olive oil gets pressed to how to layer flavors in a Bolognese sauce. The Olive Garden employees buy fresh vegetables at a market in Florence and prepare a multicourse Italian meal. "It's like getting into Harvard," says Pickens. "It's not, of course, but you know what I mean." Since 1999, some 850 employees have attended CIT; 80% of them are still with the company."""

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  1. Can't think of a worse place to dine. Years back, while traveling with a coworker, she said she didn't want to stop at the Olive Garden because she didn't care for Italian cuisine. I agreed to bypass the OG, but commenting it was because I very much liked Italian cuisine.

    Out of curiosity, perhaps 6-7 years ago, I stopped at one to try their unlimited soup & salad lunch. Does anyone really go for more than one portion? And those bread sticks.....

    Hint - OG has NOTHING in common with restaurants in Tuscany.

    I fully respect their excellent marketing, however, as for the quality ......... it doesn't get much worse.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Clams047

      As I've mentioned before, the "Culinary Institute" may well serve to retain employees and create some degree of enthusiasm, but the idea that a chain restaurant would send any employees to a "culinary institute" when they have a strictly corporate designed and mandated menu in place is laughable. I'm sure even the parsley placement on plates is strictly prescribed so I'm not sure what an attendee brings back to the restaurant from the experience.

      1. re: ferret

        The culinary institute sounds more like an employee award and retention scheme to me. Although it did mention a second use of Italy trips that ends up inspiring menu items.

        Also sounds like they're fixing to badge engineer the food a bit with the emphasis on sharing across brands. Makes sense as a business, of course, amazing that it has taken them this long to set that up.

        I read through that whole article. Sounds like Darden is a well-run machine that gives you a sit-down restaurant experience with the goal of McDonalds-like consistency of that experience. As such it's going to be decidedly meh to most people reading on Chowhound, but I am quite sure there are indeed worse places to get food. ;-)

        1. re: ferret

          Maybe they're the ones who bring back phony Italian names for dishes (which apparently they have decided to discontinue once someone called them out on it).

      2. Then why does their food still blow? Clearly even though they're sending people to Italy, they're not coming back with anything.

        5 Replies
          1. re: alkapal

            Ummm...within the last year or so. And I had a really hard time finding something on the menu that wasn't covered in a cream sauce.

            I used to enjoy going there, but it seems that their food really has declined. I think I'm bothered by how much they tote the authenticity of their dishes but they don't really relate to the cuisine or food philosophy of the area they are trying to emulate.

            1. re: CurlieGlamourGirlie

              ok. fair enough! i probably have not eaten there in 14 years, and it was at a going away party. i cannot recall what i had. i think darden includes bonefish grill, but i may be wrong. i like bonefish grill..

              1. re: alkapal

                Bonefish is OSI Restaurants (Outback, also Carraba's and a couple others).

                1. re: CrazyOne

                  ah, ok! i like carraba's, too; their pork chops are top notch.

        1. Great article, thanks for sharing. I like RL & OG for what they are, and don't complain that I was forced, coerced, held at gun-point to eat there. I appreciate that someone INVITED me to dine out, but DO NOT like to wait; hence I haven't been to either in years. The "reservations" model they are looking at could solve that.