Olive Garden & Red Lobster Join for “Synergy”—But is it Just a Taste Bud Double Dud?

May 29th, 2013

Lagging sales are causing Olive Garden and Red Lobster to combine forces in some locations with the two restaurants sharing building space. Both restaurants are owned by Darden Restaurants which, despite a number of highly publicized efforts to turn things around, continue to report low earnings.  This combo-restaurant idea is their latest effort to turn the tide on the earnings front.

In fairness to the two restaurants, let me candidly admit before continuing further that my last dining experience at Red Lobster made me violently ill.

With that little caveat out of the way, here goes.

I suppose this new idea could work.  For example, a bus full of hungry cross country travelers might be pleased to stop at a combination sit down restaurant.  Usually, I’ve noticed that they stop in a street within easy walking distance of two fast food places. This new restaurant concept could provide a bit more “upscale” dining experience (i.e., dinner served on actual plates with silver plated eating utensils instead of out of a paper bag where condiments are only available upon request).

So far, that’s the only positive thing I can think of about this idea.  What’s standing in the way of success for these establishments are two things.

First, the food is awful.  Although I don’t pretend to be an expert on these things, I believe restaurant success usually starts with good food. I know there are exceptions. At Rainforest Café, it’s easy to get caught up in all the wild animals screaming at you and staring at you from every direction that you completely ignore what’s being served.  Same thing with all those chicken wing places that are also sports bars.  They have so much activity going on that who cares what you’re eating?  And Hooters . . . well . . . that’s another story entirely.

So, I think it doesn’t take an expert to see that good food is essential to a positive dining experience.  Sadly, at Olive Garden, salads are drenched in dressing and the breadsticks are doughy and covered in garlic and butter.  At Red Lobster, just reading the menu can make you nauseous and even the side dishes are about 400 calories. Imagine ordering the Butterfried Crawfish and washing it down with a Lobsterita.  Red Lobster is known for their cheddar biscuits.  When the main ingredient you can taste in a dish is lard, I think there’s a problem.  Also, did I mention I got violently ill the last time I ate there?

The other problem is ambiance and cost. Just walking into either of those places brings me down.  I don’t want to seem like a snob here, but every time I eat at one of these restaurants (always under protest), I have the same feeling I get walking into a funeral home.

Sorry, that’s a bit too harsh—on funeral homes.

Price is another factor.  Even Darden Restaurants acknowledge that increased prices have been an issue.

If you’re going to go to New York City, you’re going to spend a lot of money to eat.  That’s understood. Your friends in other parts of the country are going to tease you unmercifully when you return from your NYC trip with stories about the $30 hamburger you ate.

But spending a fortune on Olive Garden or Red Lobster while you’re there?  Trust me, you’ll never hear the end of that. In fact, if I were you, I wouldn’t even mention it.

Here’s a better idea. When visiting New York, opt instead for a local diner.  It’s a true New York experience and the food is much better.

You’ll also be able to enjoy your post dinner a lot more.  Casually walking arm in arm with your sweetheart while window shopping and taking in the sites is far more memorable than searching frantically for the nearest Duane Reade to buy the biggest box of Alka Seltzer you can find.


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