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Olive Garden commercials show family members having a great time—in fact, too great a time—at the restaurant. The Cousins commercial in particular annoys consumers. While the commercials do feature food as well—which is the biggest positive for the restaurant—the restaurant chain might consider dialing down the artificial cheerfulness  of the groups in the commercials. Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with more than 700 restaurants, more than 87,000 employees and $3.3 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a member of the Darden family of restaurants (NYSE:DRI), the world’s largest company-owned and operated full-service restaurant company.

Positive Themes

“Great tasting” occupies the biggest slice of the positive comment pie.

  • And Olive Garden said, “Let there be endless soup, salad and bread sticks (for $6.49 after 4 pm) and it was good. No, seriously. It WAS good! And healthy. Except for the soup. (source)
  • I’m craving Olive Garden :P yummy. The bread sticks and salad. (source)

Diners think the chain has “great menu items,” including salad, cake, chocolate mousse and most of all, bread sticks.

  • Lunch @ Olive Garden was delicious! Thank you to my wonderful boss! (source)
  • I love the endless soup and salad at Olive Garden…. but I notice they always make sure you have tons of that nice tasty bread available at your table to fill up on. I understand what they are doing (cutting their food costs) but it’s not like the server is saying I have to eat 3 more pieces of bread before he’ll bring me out another refill of soup and salad. (source)

In the “Great for Meals” category, comments relate specifically to dishes that are good for lunch or supper.

  • I want Olive Garden SALAD!!! I love love their salad and could have an affair with it C= SIL & I are going grocery shopping tomorrow and I hope to talk her into going there for lunch.. (fingers crossed). (source)
  • I also have them work towards something with their report card, so they’ve earned a dinner out …. and they of course chose The Olive Garden (that’s their favorite place!), and I feel like it’s a perfect reward… we all get to celebrate their hard work and have a nice night together!! Guess we’ll be planning our dinner out for the next week or so. (source)

Negative Themes Not food but customer service is the number one negative in the minds of diners. A no-reservation policy and long waits are the main culprits.

  • I hate that Olive Garden doesn’t take reservations. It’s crap. The wait will be atleast an hour tonight I just know it. (source)
  • I hate the Olive Garden. The food is good but over priced. Every time we go its a 30-60 min waite. (source)

Olive Garden’s slogan is “When you’re here, you’re Family.” Sheldon Cooper (a fictional character portrayed by actor Jim Parsons) on the TV series The Big Bang Theory has a funny take on that line, and many posters repeated it.

  • i dont like the olive garden ….they treat me like family~ seldon cooper. (source)

Lots of posters really don’t like the phoniness of Olive Garden commercials.

  • okay, I “HATE” the commercial for Olive Garden: a group of young cousins sitting around the table laughing & reminiscing of old times, one asks another, “… tell the story again about Aunt …” the laugh … — If I EVER hear/find out that anyone laughs & reminisces about “tia emma,” they are out of the “emotional” will! (source)
  • the olive garden commercials have the worst and most cheesy acting of any commercial….it blows my mind. (source)

Several posts were about stomach distress following Olive Garden meals.

  • I’m now thinking that the fonduta at Olive Garden was not the best choice last night. Very bad stomach! (source)
  • yoo this ish is not the business! i [strongly] believe that olive garden gave me food poisoning. i HATE this feeling man :(. (source)

Insights The two biggest negatives for Olive Garden are customer service and commercials—neither one a food issue, which most restaurants would probably consider to be a good thing. The food got positive reviews for the most part, especially the bread sticks, which come with every meal and are an item consumers come to the restaurant for. The customer service complaints are mostly about the long waits, which is tied to the chain’s no-reservation policy. While the long waits are a result of the chain’s popularity, they are an annoyance to consumers, several of whom said they’d go elsewhere just to be served faster. The chain must have a reason for this policy, but apparently its competitors, which accept reservations, see the pros and cons of reservations differently. About those commercials—Olive Garden’s ad agency undoubtedly did the research, focus groups, etc. and developed this creative concept and execution, but many consumers find the artificial gaiety in the ads and the tie-in with the “family” theme to be forced and grating. (And once you’ve heard the Sheldon Cooper take on the tagline, you’ll always think of it when you see an Olive Garden ad.) Given that the food is the main draw for consumers, a campaign that focuses on that might be a better bet.