Olive Garden drops the fake old-world charm

If you look closely, you might think that the chain now bears a striking resemblance to Panera Bread.

By MSN Money Partner Jul 10, 2014 1:41PM
Credit: © Darden Restaurants Inc/AP

Caption: The new ‘Olive Garden’ logo was released by Darden Restaurants on Monday, March 3, 2013
By Belinda Lanks, Businessweek

If you visit an Olive Garden this month, you might get a whiff of change. 

The Italian food chain has begun rolling out its redesigned décor and  logo -- a two-course re-branding effort to ditch its cheesy reputation for one that's slightly more sophisticated, albeit still family-friendly.

The overhaul is part of a "brand renaissance" announced last March by Darden Restaurants (DRI), Olive Garden's parent company, and the effort includes smaller lunch portions, faster dine-in service, and online ordering. 

A logo update, the first in more than 15 years, and an interior remodel are the visual signals of Darden's strategy to win back customers lost to such fast-casual brands as Chipotle (CMG) and Panera Bread (PNRA), which offer freshly prepared food at lower prices.

If you look closely, you might think that the new Olive Garden bears a striking resemblance to Panera Bread. Olive Garden has ditched its drab interior and faux Old World vibe for a more modern, open feel by removing some walls and decorating the remaining ones with brighter hues and modern art. Look familiar?

To be fair, a few changes reinforce Olive Garden's restaurant status. The plateware is now all-white to enhance presentation. There's a lobby, and the bar area allows diners to booze up before gorging on unlimited bread sticks.

The décor is inoffensive and charmless, much like the new logo. The revised mark -- "based on work assisted by Lippincott, a nationally-recognized design firm," according to Olive Garden -- is a simplified take on the horrible yet endearing old symbol, which featured a loose cursive font and a cluster of grapes against a stucco-like background. 

The new logo plays it safe with a more restrained script, an ash-gray backdrop, and olive branches where the grapes once were. It also replaces the tagline "Italian Restaurant" with "Italian Kitchen," connoting fast and high-quality fare.

The logo received a fair share of criticism when it was unveiled earlier this year. 

Writing for Fast Company’s Co.Design website, John Brownlee praised the honesty of the old design:

"At least you knew what it meant: bad food served in a depressing mass-produced setting."

A more generous appraisal might see the new Olive Garden design as less bad than the old. Still, that might not be enough to get customers in the door.

By re-branding, Darden hopes it can prop up its sagging star, which accounts for 40 percent of the parent’s revenue but suffered a 3.4 percent drop in same-store sales for the 12 months that ended on May 25. That month, Darden sold its under-performing Red Lobster division for $2.1 billion after the seafood chain was hit hard by surging shrimp prices

Darden knows its chain lags competitors, but the re-branding suggests that instead of trying to sprint ahead, the company has done just enough to try to catch up.

More from Businessweek

Jul 10, 2014 2:11PM

not gonna work. 


they sell pasta, and there is no reason for pasta to be so expensive. 

Jul 10, 2014 3:02PM
I'm Italian.  My mother was Italian and my grandmother came from Italy.  The Olive Garden does not even resemble real Italian food.
Jul 10, 2014 2:59PM
Re-do the decor all you want but the problem is poor tasting food, worse service, and all for a ridiculously over-priced experience.
Jul 10, 2014 3:44PM
I've never understood how a plate of spaghetti could cost $12 !!
Jul 10, 2014 2:47PM
cut the ceo's pay .....cut the prices .......list the ingredients ..........then i might try it
Jul 10, 2014 3:38PM

Because I always look for a logo I like before deciding where to eat. Somebody spent 100k on a college degree so they could come up with that change ?  Idiots.

Jul 10, 2014 3:16PM
Olive Garden 30 years ago was great when they actually made their food in house with freshly on site made pasta and their chocolate mousse pie was the $#!T.   Now.......over rated run of the mill mas produced pre-packaged fast food.   Sorry OG, you lost my biz long ago and the new logo wont bring me back
Jul 10, 2014 3:36PM
Soup, salad and bread sticks, the only things worth going to Olive Garden for.
Jul 10, 2014 2:26PM
Their food sucks.....new decor and logo isn't going to help that.
Jul 10, 2014 3:08PM
I just brought up Panera and this new Olive Garden to compare. I do not see the resemblance...
You can put a new coat of paint on an old barn and it will still be an old barn....you can paint a new logo and still be an overpriced and lousy restaurant
Jul 10, 2014 2:57PM

Olive Garden is the lowest quality "italian" food there is.


I will never eat there again after they refused to let a Veterans group put up their flag during a meeting at Olive Garden.


A pox on OG!!!!

Jul 10, 2014 5:00PM
And what's the deal with those absolutely ridiculous commercials that say they "send our chefs to Italy to learn real Italian food"...Really?? First of all, OG has NO CHEFS. They are low-paid kids trying to make ends meet while the CEO of Darden bankrolls all the money from charging $12 for a plate of pasta. Second, it's a chain, people...chain restaurants serve the same overly salted, processed food as all the rest of them. Wonder why that pasta is gummy? Because they probably microwave it before bringing it out to you or they keep it in a water-bath then barely drain it before putting some corporate sauce on it. And now they've changed the logo? Oh yeah, that's gonna change things...
Jul 10, 2014 3:34PM
Haven't been there in over a year but when I went I hade a fairly decent meal. No, they are no authentic Italian food.  I used to like the soup and salad until the soups changed.  Overpriced for the quality of food served.
Jul 10, 2014 3:04PM
Sure go right ahead and cut the portion size Olive Garden because as expensive as you already are there is no way in heck I will ever go back again if I'm not getting enough to take home leftovers.  What's the problem Olive Garden....is Michelle Obama's bright idea of cutting the size of our food packages in half, BUT NOT THE PRICES WHICH HAVE GONE UP, now extremely contagious?!?!  
Jul 10, 2014 3:02PM
Used to eat there about once a month or so but the last few times the food was awful .  Gummy luke warm pasta with sauce about the consistency  of paste just doesn't get fixed with a new logo.
Jul 10, 2014 3:01PM

Prince of Darkness,

Yes, in the midwest Olive Garden is overpriced and considered upscale dining. I find it to be way too many carbs but the salad is the best I ever had.

As for the article about the logo?

The logo resemblance is neglible at best. It's not at all a good comparison. This story is meant to incite a lawsuit or a lot of complaining and nothing more. No merit at all.

Jul 10, 2014 3:13PM
What a culinary nightmare this place is.  Everything tastes the same, too.  I've been there 3x, in 10 years+.  It wasn't by choice.  Poor quality everything, & the tables/silverware were dirty.,
Jul 10, 2014 3:20PM
Can't & won't eat at Olive Garden. 1. Not Authentic 2. Allways get the runs after I eat there!  YUCK
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