Olive Garden doesn’t know how to cook pasta, soaks its salads in too much dressing, dumps sauce haphazardly atop its dishes, forgets to sell wine, and has strayed far from its Italian roots with dishes no one in Italy would touch. And that’s how the slumping restaurant chain is seen by people who dearly want to see it flourish.
Starboard Value, one of Darden Restaurants’ largest shareholders, believes Olive Garden and its parent company can still turn things around under all-new management—and with dozens of highly specific changes to almost every aspect of how it runs restaurants. The activist hedge fund released a soup-to-nuts 294-page revival plan late Thursday, ahead of Darden’s latest earnings report. Total sales in the past quarter of $1.6 billion matched the company’s guidance; Olive Garden, its largest chain, saw yet another drop in same-store sales.