Olive Garden introduces new menu items, ad campaign


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.

Olive Garden picture

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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