Olive Garden fixed a huge mistake and now sales are booming

Diners and Investors Return to Darden
Diners and Investors Return to Darden

Olive Garden is making its restaurants a more convenient place to eat, and sales are booming.

The pasta chain just posted its best quarterly sales performance in years, with same-store sales rising 6.8% in the quarter ended Feb. 28.

That marks Olive Garden's sixth consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains after years of declines.

Olive Garden's sales slump was due in part to an overall decline in spending on casual dining. But the company also made some mistakes that led to slow service.

To turn business around, the company overhauled its restaurants to emphasize convenience.

"The overall experience inside an Olive Garden is significantly better than it was 12 to 24 months ago," Olive Garden CEO Gene Lee said during the company's earnings call on Tuesday.

Take a peek at Olive Garden dishes:

For example, Olive Garden has simplified its menu and added tabletop tablets that customers use to order their food.

The result? Olive Garden is now closing checks seven minutes faster than in the past.

The company also invested heavily in marketing for its take-out menu, to highlight a more convenient and faster way for customers to consume Olive Garden.

Olive Garden's to-go orders have soared more than 40% over the past two years as a result, and now represent nearly 11% of the chain's total sales.

Now the company is expanding on that platform to add large-party catering delivery,

Lee says this another way the chain is giving customers more convenience.

"We believe that this is a huge opportunity," Lee said of the catering business. "The reception has been fantastic. Again, it's been designed around this whole need for convenience."

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