Olive Garden Parent Darden Shakes Up Management
Darden Restaurants Inc. is replacing the president of its flagship Olive Garden chain after a new marketing campaign failed to reverse slumping sales.
Dave George, who most recently headed Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants, will be the new president of Olive Garden effective next Monday. He takes over for John Caron. Darden said Caron is leaving the company after 10 years.
Valerie Insignares, Darden’s chief restaurant operations officer, will take over for George as president of LongHorn.
Darden, based in Orlando, Fla., also named Will Setliff as its new chief marketing officer. Setliff was previously vice president of marketing for the company’s specialty restaurant group, which includes smaller chains such as The Capital Grille and Bahama Breeze. The previous chief marketing officer, J.J. Buettgen, left in November to become CEO of rival casual dining chain Ruby Tuesday.
The management shakeup comes after Darden said a key revenue figure fell in the latest quarter despite major new ad campaigns for its Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains. Executives said that campaigns didn’t emphasize value enough at a time when diners are watching their spending. Like other casual dining chains, Darden is also dealing with the growing popularity of chains such as Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread that offer food that’s a step up from fast-food but not as expensive as a sit-down restaurant.
Darden also said it was hit by a publicity backlash from tests intended to gauge how it could limit costs for workers’ health care.
Starting in 2014, big employers such as Darden will be required to provide health insurance to full-time workers. The company had tested hiring more part-time workers in select markets to gauge how it could mitigate those costs. It has since said no full-time workers will be bumped down to part-time status as a result of the health care overhaul.
Darden has about 2,000 locations in North America; roughly 1,500 of them are Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants.