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Dec 22, 2011 12:08 AM

WSJ - Olive Garden tries to attract foodies - cautiously

Waiter, I'll Have the Crowd-Pleaser
Casual Restaurants Try to Lure Foodies Without Alienating Other Diners; What Makes a Dish 'Cravable'

Pesto, gnocchi, and capers are too exotic for many Olive Garden customers.

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  1. So what if people wouldn't order gnocchi in red wine marinara sauce, but would order the same thing as "traditional Italian dumpling" in chicken soup? Sometimes, I want food that is "really rustic, but still kind of normal".

    I don't feel that everyone has to like the same things I do and I long for a restaurant that has a section of the menu for an adventurous diner and another section full of well-done but extremely safe and unadventurous dishes for the non-foodie.

    Speaking of dumbed down, check out the "interactive graphic" for people who are too intellectually weak to read the article.

    1. I am really glad to see the WSJ version of the OG story.
      Here is another version with same info and attitude by another
      writer, in another site. Very strange.

      Does this prove a conspiracy to discredit OG? Probably not, but I have been curious about
      the level of constant negative comments/news/reviews about a thriving chain.

      I am aware of the clientele OG seeks to serve, and willing to let them go about their business.
      My wife and and I still enjoy the salad, soup, and bread sticks lunch occasionally, and find tasty indeed.

      1 Reply
      1. re: justicenow

        You do realize the blog post you mention links to the WSJ story that it quotes heavily, right?

      2. I was immediately reminded: "Foodies eat where they're told."

        1. "Large company with stores across the country aims to appeal to a lot of people"

          <picks self up off the floor>

          1. Ok..I have to put my two cents into this one---where do I begin though? Foodism is like religion to me. Keep it to yourselves and don't pontificate or push it onto others. By that, I mean, Olive Garden has a clientele and they should stick to it. Their formula is for those who, in my opinion, think Italian food is Ragu and me I'm not saying that in a condescending tone at all. I grew up in an Irish/American family where Italian food was spaghetti slathered in Ragu sauce, and meatballs were little balls of chopped meat with salt, pepper and garlic powder dropped raw into that Ragu sauce to simmer. Top it all off with store-brand grated cheese. My very own siblings LOVE Olive Garden. If it ain't broke--don't fix it. Olive Garden seems to do very well, I know when I lived in NJ, the Lawrenceville/Princeton OG did an incredibe business--the lot was always full of cars. Personally, I'm shocked, though that people don't know what gnoochi is. That's weird.

            11 Replies
            1. re: jarona

              The article goes on to say that chains like OG, Applebees, etc, are constantly tweaking their menus. Somehow I think the "don't fix it" approach would sink the companies.

              One reason people wouldn't order gnocchi is because they're unsure of how to pronounce it.

              1. re: tommy

                I realize that the chains are "tweaking" all the time--but they don't really do major changes with unusual items--like--um...pigs head for example or sheep's cheeks. They'll do something like add sliders to their menu or make a 3 for $10.00 kind of thing. I dunno--I just feel like there is a restaurant for everybody--don't try to change a chain into something it is never going to be. That said--I like your assessment of why people wouldn't order gnocchi--good one:)

                1. re: jarona

                  "Over the past two years, Applebee's has changed about 80% of its menu. It revamped everything from its rice (instant is now long-grain) to the addition of more New Orleans-inspired dishes.

                  T.G.I. Friday's has tweaked or changed about 60% of the items on its menus in the past two years to add more ingredients that look and taste fresh."

                  No one is really discussing "unusual" items.

                  1. re: tommy

                    I have to laugh at "add more ingredients that look and taste fresh." What are these mystery ingredients that are meant to look fresh?

                    1. re: Manassas64

                      That was my thought, but I think tommy is pointing to that a lot more people are growing conscious of the value of fresh ingredients and those restaurants are trying to attract those diners. There is a difference between the general cultural change and not so much an appear to "foodies," whatever that exactly means.

                2. re: tommy

                  <The article goes on to say that chains like OG, Applebees, etc, are constantly tweaking their menus. >

                  Yes. they keep adding items to "Alfredo Sauce" and "Parmesan Sauce" Real Italian, yeah right....

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Where do you see that anyone is making claims of "real italian"?

                    I feel like the link in the first post must be bringing me to a different article than it brings everyone else.

                    1. re: tommy

                      They purport to have a cooking school in Italy where all their "chefs" are trained.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        "proport" = have an ad implying that

                        1. re: ChefJune

                          Hardly evidence that they claim to serve "real Italian" food, which is simply false.

                          1. re: tommy

                            The WSJ article quotes the OG president:

                            "We don't use the word authentic," to describe the Olive Garden experience, Mr. Caron says. The chain prefers "Italian inspired."