Olive Garden restaurants were developed by General Mills, Inc. in 1982 but the chain is now owned by Darden Restaurants, General Mill’s restaurant division. Darden Restaurants is the United States’s largest full-service restaurant operation. The first Olive Garden restaurant was opened in Orlando, Florida. The ambiance of many Olive Garden restaurants is hallmarked by Tuscan farmhouse interiors and exteriors. Warm earth tones and friendly staff hospitality punctuate a typical dining experience at Olive Garden restaurants. The slogan of Olive Garden, “When you’re here, you’re Family” honors the Italian tradition of embracing family connections.
The parent company of this restaurant chain founded Olive Garden’s Culinary Institute of Tuscany in 1999 to train staff members in the art of authentic Italian cooking. Italian chefs and other local experts teach Olive Garden staff Italian cooking secrets. The team members also have the opportunity, while attending this cooking school, to experience the culture of Italy and bring some of this spirit to their work at Olive Garden restaurants throughout the United States and Canada. Over 850 Olive Garden employees have attended the Culinary Institute of Tuscany since 1999. Eighty percent of those employees are still with the company. Menu items that contain a Culinary Institute of Tuscany logo signify that the entrée was inspired by a team member’s experiences in Italy.
The president of Olive Garden, David Pickens, begins each meeting with Olive Garden executives by reading letters received by patrons and employees. A young woman with a diagnosis of Downs Syndrome wrote a letter talking about how much she enjoyed dining at the restaurant with her family and that she wished she could work for the company. The young girl was hired as a hostess by the company. This story illustrates the principles that are an integral part of the company’s philosophy.
The menus and wine offerings from Olive Garden restaurants vary based on local specialties and seasonal availability. The restaurants offer an extensive wine list and highlight many food and wine pairings. The staff is always happy to offer samples and frequently offers tastings of new featured wines. Olive Garden commonly highlights lunch specials such as “never-ending pasta bowls” or soup, salad, and breadstick combinations. The restaurant has an impressive selection of appetizers and desserts to round out their selection of entrees. Children’s items are also typically available. Olive Garden restaurants encourage celebrations by offering an all-occasion cake for purchase that serves four to six people.
Several times a year Olive Garden publishes coupons in various city newspapers. These coupons correspond with featured menu item promotions. These coupons typically offer a discount on the showcased item. Guest satisfaction coupons are randomly generated and extend discounts to patrons who complete the survey. This coupon needs to be redeemed within 90 days of the patron’s initial visit. Frequent diners at Olive Garden may want to ask an Olive Garden restaurant manager for information about coupons.