Thursday, October 13, 2011

Olive Garden's Recipe for Marketing Failure

It was brought to my attention that a group of people were not allowed to bring the American flag in to an Olive Garden restaurant in Anniston, AL to “avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests.” 

            Olive Garden bans American flag

ANNISTON, Ala. — Officials with the Orlando-based parent company of Olive Garden restaurants say they're sorry if a decision regarding an Alabama Kiwanis club's desire to display the American flag caused any concern.
The comments come after 80-year-old Marti Warren of Anniston said she wasn't allowed to bring an American flag into an Olive Garden for a planned Kiwanis Club banquet in the east Alabama town of Oxford.
Warren learned the night of the banquet that she wouldn't be allowed to display the flag or the Kiwanis banner in the restaurant, she said.
"I was so angry," she told WBRC-TV. "I felt like I had been slapped in the face."
Orlando-based parent firm Darden restaurants said in a statement that "like all Americans we have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the American flag and everything it symbolizes."
The Oxford Olive Garden lacks a private dining area, which led to the decision, company officials said.
"To be fair to everyone and avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests, they're unable to accommodate flags or banners of any type in the dining room," according to the statement.
Without no flag at the Kiwanis banquet, Warren said she asked club members to close their eyes and picture the flag waiving in the wind as they said the pledge of allegiance.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press.  All rights reserved.

The statements, though credited to "officials" from Olive Garden, in actuality come from Darden's marketing department.  Darden's marketers are doing a poor job.  Their response is a desperate attempt to bolster the Olive Garden name while minimizing the fact that one of their restaurants disrespected the flag of the United States.  They are trying to cover their arses instead of addressing the issue.  They are sending the Vice President of Olive Garden to apologize to Marti Warren.  While Mrs. Warren deserves an apology, she does not speak for the whole of America.  Darden's marketers are acting as though her acceptance of the apology speaks for the American people. The flag represents America and her people and this defensive response does not go far enough to apologize to the American people for the insult.  This band aid response just doesn’t cut it.  I, for one, could not let sleeping dogs lie, so I contacted Darden Concepts, Inc. owner of Olive Garden, which is located here in Orlando. I spoke with Justin (no last name provided), with customer relations.   Justin parroted Darden's statements in his responses. 

Lisa: I am calling about the incident in Anniston, AL where the flag was not allowed in the Olive Garden Restaurant.  What is Darden's response?

Justin: The official statement is on the Olive Garden website (see below) but I can tell you that Olive Garden has the utmost respect for the American flag and it has never been the company’s policy to ban the flag from any of their restaurants. 
Lisa: The Company’s response was to Marti Warren and the Kiwanis Club members, but the people of the United States are upset about the way the flag was treated. 
Justin: It was not the intention of the company for this to happen. 
Lisa: But it did happen. How do you address that?
Justin: The corporate office has been contacting all the restaurants to ensure this does not happen again.
Lisa: The American flag and the American people were disrespected.  The people are upset.  The company should respond to the American public, addressing their concerns and apologizing to the people of the United States?

Justin: The response on the Olive Garden website is the official statement at this time.  I will pass what you have said on to the marketing department including suggestions for a stronger statement addressing the concerns of the American people.

The fact that the concerns will be passed on to marketing is proof that it is indeed the marketers, not officials, that are responding to this incident.   Hopefully Olive Garden will provide additional statements that actually address the issue and offer an apology to the country.  Perhaps if more of the American public contacts Darden, they will release a more appropriate response.

The phone number for Darden is 407-245-4000

 Official Olive Garden Italian Restaurant Statement:

We've had some questions about whether or not guests can bring the American flag into our restaurants. We are very sorry for any misunderstanding about this issue. We do not have a policy at Olive Garden concerning bringing the American flag into our restaurants. Some members of our team were misinformed about company policy by our corporate office. As a company we take responsibility for that and we regret it. We take pride in how we communicate to our restaurants and we are correcting this so it doesn't happen again. Like all Americans we have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the American flag and everything it symbolizes, and we welcome anyone who wishes to bring the flag into our restaurants. In fact, we periodically provide American flag collar pins to our employees to wear while serving guests.

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