Vladik Rikhter

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Alon Brands Chooses Zenput to Streamline C-Stores: Why ‘Flattening’ is Still the Future

By Vladik Rikhter

alon-zenput

The world is flat. You may recall that’s the name of the international best-selling book by Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. This book analyzes globalization in the 21st century, and the title is a metaphor for viewing the world as a level playing field. Part of this concept is that geographical divisions are no longer a hindrance to companies’ growth.

At Zenput, we work with companies who embrace the idea of flattening. Just because retailers operate dozens, if not hundreds, of stores across their network, doesn’t mean they can’t reduce the time and labor involved in cross-company task management from weeks to just hours.

Case in Point: Alon Brands, the largest franchisee of 7-Eleven stores in the United States, has realized the advantage of Zenput and recently adopted the mobile app across its network. Now, more than 400 users across 300 convenience stores in Texas and New Mexico can automatically assign tasks and centralize auditing functions. Zenput will replace manual processes in Alon Brands’ stores, including the preparation of spreadsheets, emails and paperwork to conduct operational and retail merchandising audits. Exceptions on retail execution will be automatically routed, in-store campaigns will be verified, and other tasks will be managed through Zenput.

So in terms of geography, it doesn’t matter that a New Mexico store is hundreds of miles away from Alon Brands’ Dallas headquarters. That store will remain stocked and brand promotions will be up to date because the manager of that store is using a mobile-driven task management tool to manage inventory and verify marketing materials.

Friedman calls certain technological advancements “flatteners” because they level the playing field. Just consider Zenput’s ability to level the playing field for the in-store customer experience—it’s pretty amazing. Looking back, a technology like Zenput is like the fulfillment of a prophecy. (Keep in mind his book was published more than 10 years ago!)

Workflow software
The ability of machines to talk to other machines with no humans involved. Zenput allows senior management to auto-generate tasks and automatically monitors compliance of those tasks. Zenput works smarter so individuals don’t have to work harder.

Uploading
Friedman called it “the most disruptive force of all.” Uploading allows organizations to collaborate on online projects via customizable software. That’s the beauty of a customizable app like Zenput and cloud-based technology.

Supply-chaining
Ten years ago, Walmart was ahead of its time by using technology to streamline item sales, distribution and shipping. As we see with Alon Brands today, more retailers are using technology to improve the way they do business. It’s faster, easier and just makes sense.

“The Steroids”
This is the name Friedman gives to all analog content and processes being digitized and and transmitted virtually. It may have been hard to predict the impact a device like the iPhone (first released in 2007) would have on mobile technology, but smartphone adoption has grown exponentially in the last decade. It’s a powerful technology right in the palm of your hand. And the best part is, it requires minimal investment since your employees already have the hardware—their own mobile devices.

Alon Brands has embraced that notion, and that’s why more than 400 users will be able to access Zenput’s platform. To learn more about Zenput’s ability to serve the convenience store industry, explore our website. Be sure to watch the Zenput overview video and consider scheduling a live demo.

Topics: Product Announcements

Zenput’s ‘Tech Temperature’ at the 2015 NACS Show

By Vladik Rikhter

nacs-show-2015

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the convenience and fuel retail industry’s annual NACS Show, especially when it takes place in Las Vegas! That’s why it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the experience. We were certainly thrilled to exhibit for the first time this year, and met many new and familiar faces.

One of the familiar faces was Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Content Development Coordinator for CSP. You may recall his 2014 article on Mapco’s network-wide implementation of Zenput. The great thing about NACS is that it allows you to put on a bit of a mini-show for passersby at the booth. Our mini-show focused on, of all things, a chicken sandwich!

As Angel explains in this NACS tech overview, Zenput showed how a hand-held gauge can read the temperature of food and how data can flow into our app and onto the cloud. He’s referring to Zenput’s recent integration with Bluetherm probe thermometers. By working together, these technologies eliminate the need for foodservice workers or managers to manually log temperatures and guarantee exact readings every time.

Taking Our Own ‘Tech Temperature’

The great thing about a trade show is that you get to take your own temperature as a company and compare it to some of the other trends on the show floor. Angel’s article highlights some of those trends, and Zenput is on point:

Big Data – Data is being used to assess customer shopping habits, manage inventory, and measure performance.

Branding – This is especially hot right now in the foodservice arena, and it really comes down to execution of in-store signage programs. How well do your stores execute on any given day? That’s where mobile reporting at the store level is especially handy.

Connectivity – That’s how you share information about in-store signage and inventory control. It’s all about staying connected while staying secure. This is where having GPS and timestamp and a secure cloud-based technology is useful.

Customer-relationship management – While the signage and in-store promotions are a component, it’s much more than that. It’s about responding quickly to problems that can arise in a store on any given day, from inventory control to maintenance. How well does your store respond to a shortage of the new CPG or a broken latte dispenser? Do they even have that capability? That’s where real-time exception reports and notifications can make a difference in a retailer’s bottom line.

To learn more about Zenput’s application in the convenience channel, click here.

And be sure to read about our recent partnership with Alon Brands, the largest 7-Eleven franchisee in the U.S.

Topics: C-store

Bar Pizza Can Be Hot for Bottom Line

By Vladik Rikhter

bar-pie-pizza

As you may recall from my blog about craft beer, I have a bit of a fascination for the town of Asbury Park, NJ. Who wouldn’t when the hottest restaurant in town is a German beer hall that has no televised sports but still manages to draw a crowd on a Sunday?

Well there’s another bar in Asbury Park that has picked up on the hot trend of bar pizza. The joint is Johnny Mac’s and if you visit their website, the first words that will greet you are “Free Pizza. Every Day. All Day.” That’s right. Johnny Mac’s invites you to buy a brew and enjoy a slice on the house. It’s a genius business move: Spend some dough on pizza, upsell on the beer.

But Johnny’s Macs isn’t ordering out, either. They’re making it from scratch, and they have it down to a science. It’s piping hot from the oven and made with fresh ingredients—it’s an artisanal pizza.

What is a Bar Pizza?

According to Margot’s Pizza in Brooklyn, (a borough that’s arguably the birthplace of modern pizza), bar pizzas have four distinct qualities:

  1. Very thin crust
  2. Crisp
  3. Well-done without being burnt
  4. Large enough to share but small enough to champ it on your own

As Pizza Today notes, Margot’s pizza founder Adam Kuban started out as a pizza blogger when he decided to start his own pizza place based on growing trends. Instead of just opening another pizza parlor, he took the bar pizza concept and made it the center of the business.

So under this business model, the food comes first and the booze comes second. That makes a great deal of sense when it’s much easier to mess up a pizza than it is to mess up a drink order.

The Takeaway

As with any expansion into fresh foodservice, there’s sanitation requirements and maintenance needs in terms of foodservice equipment.

While the moon may hit your eye with dollar signs, serving up a pizza pie doesn’t happen overnight. It requires planning and inventory stocking, and even some personnel adjustments (who’s making the bar pizza vs. who’s serving the bar pizza).

If you own multiple locations, you might want to pilot the service at one of your locations before rolling out the concept. That’s generally a good rule for any foodservice rollout—gather information from the field and share it with your network before taking the leap. You don’t want a subpar menu item to detract from your brand. Measure results to get it right from the start!

Topics: Restaurants

Buying Local and the Importance of Retail Signage

By Vladik Rikhter

grown-local-grocery-signage

The consumer trend of buying local has grown from being “hot” to being a central driver of growth in the restaurant and grocery retail industry, according to the results of a recent survey by A.T. Kearney. Two years ago, when the study was first conducted, local food was a differentiator for retailers—a nice offering that could set them apart from competitors. Now, merchandising local food is critical to growth.

Importantly, the study found that retail companies and grocery stores can capitalize on increased interest in local foods by highlighting products through proper signage and advertisements.

“Localvore”

“Localvore” is the term that Randy Burt, co-author of the A.T. Kearney study, uses to describe this growing trend that’s especially popular among women and Millennials. It’s a movement that demands high standards for fresh food like seafood, meat, produce, and other assorted specialty items like jams, breads, and desserts.

A recent survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) supports the A.T. Kearney study regarding the importance of local. The NRA asked nearly 1,600 professional chefs to identify the top food trends for restaurant menus in 2016. Check out the top 5 of 20:

  1. Locally sourced meats and seafood
  2. Chef-driven fast-casual concepts
  3. Locally grown produce
  4. Hyper-local sourcing
  5. Natural ingredients/minimally processed foods.

Forty-four percent identified local sourcing as the current food trend that has grown the most over the last decade.

The key to the local movement is not only how local the food is, but also how well the food is marketed. This involves a rebranding of the term “local,” and majority rules on this issue. Of the 1,500 U.S. shoppers surveyed, 96% now describe local food as products grown or produced within 100 miles from the point-of-sale, up from 58% in 2014. Majority also rules on what “local” means to quality, with 93% of consumers now associating local with “fresh.”

And if you sell specialty foods, this should be your favorite finding from the study: 78% of consumers are willing to pay a premium of 10% or more for local food, up from 70% in 2014. Indeed, premium is on the rise with the help of the “foodie” Millennial generation!

Availability is No Longer the Issue

Access to local food is no longer the roadblock to sales; only 27% of consumers surveyed said products were not available. However, communication is clearly a problem when more than half of the respondents said that they don’t buy local due to a lack of clear advertising/in-store signage.

It’s amazing that with all of our technological advancements, a gap in sales can come down to the basics of a misplaced sign! That may be the bad news, but the good news is that the problem is completely avoidable and/or fixable with greater oversight.

“Did You Find What You Were Looking for Today?”

Make Local Food a Priority: Consumers are drawn to local food and will pay a premium for it. Call attention to your offerings! It’s in the retailer’s interest to properly place signs designating where local food is available.

Get the Basics Right: Don’t just issue a memo or mass email hoping your managers take notice. Take action! Audit your stores in a way that includes promotional/signage auditing. Document store compliance and address issues at the store level.

Help your customers easily find their favorite local foods, and you may just become their favorite local store.

Topics: Retail, Grocery

Raise a Glass to Darden’s Secret Weapon

By Vladik Rikhter

yard-hosue

Darden Restaurants Inc. is on a roll—a roll not to be overshadowed by breadsticks.

The company’s Olive Garden restaurants recorded higher comparable sales for the fourth straight quarter and saw its first quarter of higher traffic in recent memory, according to this financial article. It’s a big victory for the brand and the parent company, given that Olive Garden generates 56% of the restaurant operator’s nearly $1.69 billion revenue.

It’s certainly good news after Darden’s decision to transfer approximately 430 of its more than 1,500 Olive Garden restaurants to a publicly traded real-estate investment trust (REIT) and lease back the properties.

This recent success has not let Darden rest on its laurels, though. This is a company that pays careful attention to consumer trends, as evidenced by its acquisition of and investment in Yard House. While it’s a modest chain of 59 restaurants, Nation’s Restaurant News named Yard House the sixth fastest-growing chain in the country, ranking No. 91 in the top 100 restaurants of 2015. In this article, NRN outlined the three keys to Yard House’s growth:

  1. Unit Growth - Self-explanatory, with the restaurant chain growing 13.5 percent in the year ended May 2014
  2. Strong Segment - Also self-explanatory given the sustained upward trajectory of craft beer
  3. Vibrant Atmosphere - The food, beer, and music combination

Fun is the key in these types of bar-restaurants. Yard House’s name is derived from its signature “yard” of beer—a very tall glass. The beer menu includes more than 100 beers on tap on a chalkboard. While Olive Garden says, “When you’re here, you’re family,” the Yard House brand says it’s a “modern public house where food and beer lovers unite.” In other words, “When you’re here, you’re here to have a good time!”

Yard House adds some “good-times” diversity to Darden’s upscale portfolio, which also includes LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, Season 52 and Bahama Breeze.

Human Interaction Over a Brew

When reading about the success of Yard House, I couldn’t help but think of an article I read about Asbury Festhalle & Biergarten in Asbury Park, NJ. For anyone who knows the area, or listens to Bruce Springsteen’s music, this area was economically depressed for decades, but is making a comeback thanks to a younger generation of newcomers interested in revitalizing the downtown.

Just don’t expect to watch any kind of playoff games at Biergarten – there are no TVs! I’ve heard stories of people waiting two hours just to get into the Biergarten on a Saturday night. And it’s all so they could have a good beer, some delicious German food, and actually talk to each other.

According to one Biergarten investors, people are “starving for that human interaction and contact.” Another investor (there’s 17 of them) says the Biergarten prides itself on the “easiness and unpretentiousness” of the place.

Biergarten is the place people want to bring friends. Who wouldn’t want to check out the local place with a beer menu that has 70 percent to 80 percent imports, and an interior design of 1920s Europe?

While exclusivity may be cool, definitely tune into this trend of open and inviting atmospheres. Large, corporate-run chains like Darden Inc. and local ventures like the Asbury Biergarten are both in step with what a younger generation of customers are looking for in a bar/restaurant: top-notch food, a variety of cold beer, and a fun, social environment.

Topics: Restaurants

Bluetooth Thermometer Probe: The Next Generation of Food Safety

By Vladik Rikhter

bluetherm-thermometer

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the first two of seven major rules under the bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA). The agency calls it “one of the most significant steps in decades” to prevent foodborne illness.

The rules require human and animal food facilities to develop and implement written food safety plans that indicate the possible problems that could affect the safety of their products and outline the steps the facility would take to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of those problems occurring. Ultimately, these rules make food companies accountable for monitoring their facilities and identifying and preventing potential hazards in their products.

The FDA’s announcement coincides with one of Zenput’s biggest announcements to date—full integration of our mobile solution with ThermoWorks’ BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe. This brand-new feature enables restaurants, franchises, and other multi-unit foodservice businesses to instantly measure and log temperature readings for all prepared foods. Much like the FDA’s rules, this preemptive solution is a way for restaurants to monitor their facilities for potential hazards.

The BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe optimizes Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) inspections in three ways:

Increases the accuracy of readings

The thermometer probe’s integration with Zenput’s mobile solution eliminates the need for food service workers or managers to manually log temperatures, guarantees an exact reading each time, and ensures customers receive quality food in accordance with HACCP regulations enforced by the Food and Drug Administration.

Reduces procedure time

Employees no longer waste time writing down temperature estimates. Readings with exact measurements are instantly loaded into Zenput and distributed to managers. Zenput and BlueTherm integration offers senior executives the ability to easily communicate readings, maintain a historical log to assess performance, and save temperature-taking time needed in manual processes.

Decreases the risk of cross contamination

It’s the beauty of wireless Bluetooth technology – there are no wires or cords that will drag or pick up food. There’s no need for pencil, pen or paper either. The employee simply holds their phone in one hand and the wireless BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe in the other.

From convenience stores to grocery stores, more retailers are focusing on formats that offer fresh and healthy food. With foodborne illnesses widely reported, some retailers may be hesitant to offer such options. BlueTherm integration increases retailer confidence, enabling them to focus more on customer service and menu innovation.

Topics: Product Announcements, Restaurants, C-store

The NLRB Ruling Presents Opportunity for Franchises

By Vladik Rikhter

mcdonalds-15-wage

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Browning Ferris Industries, a waste management company, qualifies as a “joint employer” along with a subcontractor. The decision effectively drew a parallel to fast-food and hospitality industry employees and the franchise system of employment.

As this Huffington Post article explains, “if a fast-food brand or a hotel chain can be deemed a ‘joint employer’ along with the smaller company, it can be dragged into labor disputes and negotiations that it conveniently wouldn't have to worry about otherwise.”

Spotlight on Fast-Food Employees

The NLRB ruling has huge consequences for foodservice giants like McDonald’s, which has locations that are roughly 90 percent franchisee-operated. The ruling not only increases McDonald’s labor liability, but also makes it easier for workers to unionize as employees under the larger parent company. Of course, the backdrop to the NLRB’s decision is the clamoring for a minimum wage increase to $15, so the decision brings McDonald’s corporate leaders right to the bargaining table instead of shifting negotiations to the franchisees.

This certainly is an interesting time for companies under the franchise model, and it starts to make more sense why larger retailers like Panera and Buffalo Wild Wing are taking back control of their stores. Maybe they have seen the legal writing on the wall, or maybe they see the economic opportunity.

In our previous article about In-N-Out Burger, we highlighted the fact that this 100-percent corporate-owned chain succeeds in keeping their employees satisfied, which in turn had led to a better customer experience and growing footprint. McDonalds, by contrast, has a level of separation from employees and customer service has been a main factor in the chain’s steady decline. For the first time in at least 40 years, McDonald’s plans to close more stores than it opens.

It’s the tale of two business models: corporate-owned vs. franchised. It’s certainly a cautionary tale for smaller chains considering national expansion.

Wanted: Employer With Good Attitude

The NLRB’s ruling has effectively increased corporate responsibility—a ruling that resonates with both employees and customers of the American retail and restaurant industry. Instead of resenting the 3-2 decision and bickering along partisan lines, franchises should embrace the opportunity for change.

Right now, the economy is favoring retailers with fewer locations and tightly managed operations, and chains like In-N-Out Burger and Chipotle have proven it’s possible to have a corporate-owned foodservice operation worth billions.

Why not apply those same principles as a larger company? It’s never too late for companies under a franchise model to become more involved in store-level operations.

Don’t look at being an employer as merely a legal responsibility. View it as an opportunity to increase employee engagement and improve operations.

Topics: Restaurants

Franchised Restaurant Operations vs. Corporate-Owned Operations

By Vladik Rikhter

buffalo-wild-wings

There’s a shift happening in the restaurant industry other than changing consumer preferences. It’s the rise of company-owned vs. franchised operations.

Previously, we’ve discussed the regional success of In-N-Out Burger. This is a restaurant chain that came of age with McDonald’s. When the two restaurant chains came to a fork in the road, they took separate paths. McDonald’s experienced explosive growth, while In-N-Out Burger grew slowly but steadily, eventually reaching cult-like status among foodies.

Today, In-N-Out Burger continues to grow while McDonald’s will have to close more restaurants than it opens for the first time in 40 years.

Other major chains are starting to get a clue. Chipotle, which McDonald’s has been criticized for trying to chase, has seen its revenue soar by 155% over the past five years. Panera’s saw five-year revenue growth of 77%. It should be noted that Chipotle is 100-percent company owned, while Panera is a mix of company-owned and franchised locations.

It should also be noted that during this time period, the proportion of company-owned locations has increased slightly at Panera. While this has slowed down total system sales, Panera’s revenue rose 7.2% on a 2.4% comparable-sales increase at company-owned locations. Chipotle is expanding its footprint at almost twice the right of Panera.

Then came the news that Buffalo Wild Wings spent $160 million buying out franchisees. Corporate-owned locations have been registering faster sales growth than franchisees have for seven straight quarters. The company is focused on rolling out changes that franchisees are slower at implementing, particularly “guest experience captains” and store redesigns.

Brand Experience Reigns Supreme

You may ask, what is a guest experience captain? This is a position Buffalo Wild Wings created at its 500 company-owned operations. The employee’s job is to help deliver the ultimate social experience for sports fans, from introducing new guests to product and promotional offers to managing audio/visual equipment.

Similarly, Panera has been rolling out Panera 2.0 at its corporate-owned locations. This concept is designed to help reduce customer friction at cafes through digital access and improved operational processes. It really works, too. I didn’t have to wait 20 minutes to stand on line for a tomato soup last week.

It all comes down to improving operations for a better customer experience. It’s about being the moment with your customers to respond to their needs in real time.

We’re certainly not saying that franchised operations don’t work. Many times, they work with great success.

Maybe you don’t have the resources to roll out an entirely new service system in your restaurants. Or maybe you are a franchisee wondering how you can better meet the high bar your brand has set. Considering using your existing technology to gain better insights into your business.

Topics: Franchise, Restaurants

Whole Foods’ Pricing Error Shouldn’t Have Been a Scandal

By Vladik Rikhter

whole-foods-market-nyc

It’s that awkward moment when a state agency has to point out that you’re ripping off your customers. That’s the embarrassing situation Whole Foods Market Inc. found itself in when the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs announced it was investigating Whole Foods after finding that the company’s local stores routinely overstate the weight of its pre-packaged products.

Examples of the overcharging included a vegetable platter that was overpriced by $6.15; an average overcharge of $4.85 on a bag of chicken tenders; and a package of berries that were overpriced by $1.84. The most egregious was a $14.84 overcharge for a package of coconut shrimp.

“Our inspectors tell me this is the worst case of mislabeling they have seen in their careers, which DCA and New Yorkers will not tolerate,” said DCA Commissioner Julie Menin. “As a large chain grocery store, Whole Foods has the money and resources to ensure greater accuracy and to correct what appears to be a widespread problem—the city’s shoppers deserve to be correctly charged.”

Ouch. This is no longer just a company error; it’s an issue of brand trust. The scandal immediately put Whole Foods on defense, prompting its co-CEOs to release a video apologizing and setting forth three initiatives to fix the problem:

  1. Increase employee training.
  2. Implementing third-party auditing system.
  3. Giving items for free if they are incorrectly labeled.

It’s a good-intentioned plan that’s a little too late, considering the damage has already been done. Whole Foods’ sales growth slowed sharply last month following the allegations.

Self-Auditing Would Have Prevented This Problem

Whole Foods’ leaders chalked up the mistakes to their hands-on approach to making the food. In fairness, some of these mislabeling mistakes benefited the customers, and they lost money on certain transactions. Still, it begs the questions: Why not take a hands-on approach to checking your work?

Had Whole Foods had an employee-led, self-auditing system in place, these errors would have been identified before the public shaming. Surely, responsible employees would have noticed that the overcharging was prevalent among packages that had been labeled with exactly the same weight, considering it’s practically impossible for all the packages to weigh the same amount, as the DCA pointed out.

If enough of these issues were reported internally, surely it would have gotten the attention of a senior executive and led to a proactive—rather than reactive—response.

Considering this is not the first time Whole Foods has faced this issue, it may be time for some more drastic internal self-auditing measures. Whole Foods has an opportunity to do that with the opening of its new 365 Market by Whole Foods concept.

The pricing scandal may have lost some customers for good, but it’s not too late for Whole Foods to gain and keep the trust of new customers in new markets.

Topics: Grocery

Is a Restaurant REIT the Right Move for Darden’s Olive Garden?

By Vladik Rikhter

olive_garden_exterior

Is it a matter of financial success or a move that indicates a larger operational problem lurking beneath the surface? Ultimately, that’s what investors are trying to determine regarding Darden Restaurant Inc.’s decision to transfer approximately 430 of its more than 1,500 Olive Garden restaurants to a publicly traded real-estate investment trust (REIT) and lease them back.

Darden is the first major restaurant chain to take such a step, reported the Wall Street Journal. Prodding by Darden’s activist investor, Starboard Value LP, contributed to this decision (more information on this below).

Switching to an asset-light model via a REIT is becoming an increasingly popular move among large chains.The WSJ article sites Bob Evans Farms Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. as two companies who have recently explored this financial option. Notably, all of these brands have something important in common. They have all made recent headlines for financial and brand struggles.

Here are three examples: 

  1. McDonald’s is closing more restaurants that its opening for the first time in nearly 40 years. 
  2. Bob Evans Inc. will close 20 underperforming locations and eliminate 60 positions as part of $14 million cost cuts.
  3. In October 2013, an activist investor group won all 12 seats on Darden’s board of directors after arguing the Olive Garden chain is poorly run. It is true that 2014 Olive Garden sales plummeted. This is a big problem since Olive Garden reportedly accounts for 56% of Darden’s total sales.

Through the REIT, Olive Garden will pay back $1 billion in debt. It raises the question, is a real estate investment trust a sign of bailing out the sinking ship?

It could be, according to one analyst for Motley Fool, who calls an REIT a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Darden owns more than 1,500 U.S. restaurants, so “being a landlord is a sideline business that distracts from its real purpose of serving food,” one analyst remarked.

“This REIT is ultimately just a gimmick -- financial engineering that does not address Olive Garden's real long-term problems, including a shift in consumer sentiment away from carb-heavy foods like pasta toward healthier fare,” he concluded.

Maybe that’s true about the healthy trend, or maybe not. It could also be that people were just getting bored with the brand or had a disappointing meal.

Olive Garden’s Silver Lining

Fortunately for Olive Garden, there’s a silver lining in this pasta bowl. The restaurant chain recently reported an increase in sales and profits, and experienced a  4% lift in stock prices.

For now, the REIT is resounding with investors as Olive Garden returns to the basics that gave its brand a national presence. The chain brought back its “Buy One [entree], Take One” program for a limited time in March and its new breadstick sandwiches have also seemed to resonate with customers.

Menu innovation might be the key to Olive Garden regaining market share and gaining new customers. Consistency across the franchise will be just as important.

Interestingly, when activist investors Starboard Value Partners took control in late 2013, they created a presentation about what Olive Garden was doing wrong. Problems included not salting the pasta water, putting excessive amounts of sauce on its food, and having non-Italian menu items, CNN Money reported.

It may be too early to tell if Olive Garden has raised the bar on its menu, but at least these consistency issues were noticed and documented. It’s further evidence that Starboard is righting the Olive Garden ship instead of merely bailing it out.

Topics: Business Operations, Restaurants