Olive Garden introduces new menu items, ad campaign

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Olive Garden debuted this week a lighter-fare menu section, Porta Vita Signature Wines, and a limited-time “Dinner Today & Tomorrow” promotion alongside the brand’s first new television advertising campaign in 10 years — all of which is expected to drive sales at the struggling casual-dining restaurant chain.

The new menu will feature a section titled “Lighter Italian Fare” that features five entrees with fewer than 575 each. The entrees in the lighter-fare section are seafood brodetto, herb-grilled salmon, lasagna primavera with grilled chicken, linguine alla marinara and Venetian apricot chicken.

Concurrently, Olive Garden announced its new “Dinner Today & Tomorrow” promotion, which offers two dinners for $12.95 — one at the table and one packed up for the guest to take home. The deal is similar to Maggiano’s “Classic Pastas” take-home pasta promotion, first introduced during the recession in May 2009. The promotion was such a success that the company decided to make the promotion permanent.

The menu items available on Olive Garden’s Dinner Today & Tomorrow menu are lasagna rollatini with meat sauce, fettuccine alfredo, mezzaluna ravioli with five-cheese marinara, spaghetti with four-cheese meat sauce, and five-cheese ziti al forno. The promotion will be available until Nov. 18.

Although executives at Darden could not immediately be reached for comment, industry experts suggested the changes may be a reaction to struggling sales at the Olive Garden brand. During the first quarter of 2013, Olive Garden reported a 0.3-percent increase in same-store sales, its first positive same-store sales report in a year and a half.

After earnings report Miller Tabak + Co. analyst Stephen Anderson wrote: “We argue the worst is over for Olive Garden, and as that concept continues to reassert its value heritage with a revamped menu and new messaging in the next couple of quarters, we anticipate continued momentum on same-restaurant sales.”

Darden also recently revamped Red Lobster’s core menu, adding more non-seafood items and more items that cost fewer than $15. Red Lobster’s new menu rolls out Oct. 15.

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