Olive Garden is an Italian-themed casual-dining restaurant founded in 1982 by commercial supplier General Mills as the company’s first original restaurant (it had previously acquired 5-unit Red Lobster in 1970 and Good Earth in 1980). General Mills Restaurants owned Olive Garden and grew it to 145 units by 1989, making it the fastest-growing restaurant chain at the time, before migrating to a standalone company, Darden Restaurants, in 1995.
Olive Garden is known for its unlimited salad and breadsticks as well as a low average check. In 2013, Olive Garden introduced the “Never Ending Pasta Bowl,” allowing customers to eat as much pasta as they want for $9.99.
Bill Darden, founder of Red Lobster and shareholder in General Mills Restaurants, was the namesake behind the company that is now parent to casual-dining chains Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen and Yard House as well as two fine-dining chains, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and The Capital Grille. The company sold Red Lobster in 2014.
Key Data: Olive Garden
Segment: Casual Dining
Restaurant Segment: FSR Italian / Pizza
Number of US Locations: 867
2020 Sales: $3,546,987,000
Source: Datassential Firefly 500
CEO: Gene Lee (Darden Restaurants)
Parent/Group: Darden Restaurants