To Olive Garden's defense, there are a few things that they did well and worked for most American families... Like Taco Bell, they introduced Americans to flavors that they were not used to. Taco Bell–make believe Mexican food– introduced kids to tacos, salsa and hot food. When I was a kid, being from an immigrant family, I ate foods that my friends would have not approved of– rice and beans, fried plantains, carnitas, empanadas, etc. Now, they are commonplace. And spicy food? Never! In 1992, I did a portfolio presentation in a middle school in Huntsville, Alabama, the last place in the world I would have thought I would find kids eating hot tacos with fresh jalapeños, but, that was lunch and the kids ate them like they were eating grits. I was never more pleasantly surprised. Just in about 40 years, tacos, salsa and tortillas have become an American staple. These ethnic substitutes have introduced Americans to new flavors that led them to experiment with the real thing.
Not only have Americans adopted all these international flavors, but they are making them their own. Bobos and their kids have now, not only grown up with these flavors, but they are becoming snobs about authenticity. They must be authentic. And they are seeking out the real thing. If there is anything that Olive Garden should be looking at is that reality. Sure, re-branding is fine, but, the reason their sales are dropping is that the children of the people that made them a staple in the first place, now want real Italian food, and I am not talking pizza. They want authentic regional Italian dishes with the matching wine chosen by a sommelier. That is not what Olive Garden was about.
I used to take my daughter to Olive Garden. Feeding a teenager was not easy and the bottomless salad, soup, bread and an entree was just what a struggling graphic designer, single mom could afford. I would even add dessert to all that. But, now, the same kid, cooks her own ethnic dishes and is proud to display them in Instagram and Facebook. A true Bobo.