Olive Gar­den fo­cuses on food, cus­tomers

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - BUSINESS -

Darden Restau­rants chief ex­ec­u­tive Gene Lee isn’t look­ing for a revo­lu­tion to fix what’s ail­ing at flag­ship chain Olive Gar­den.

Five months af­ter start­ing as per­ma­nent head of the com­pany, Lee said he has been try­ing to ham­mer home to Darden’s 150,000 em­ploy­ees that the fo­cus needs to be on cus­tomers and food.

Darden’s new board of di­rec­tors has agreed with Lee’s pri­or­i­ties, he said, choos­ing first to im­prove the back­bone of the restau­rants. Lee stepped in as in­terim chief ex­ec­u­tive in Oc­to­ber af­ter ac­tivist in­vestor Star­board Value per­suaded share­hold­ers to re­place Darden’s en­tire board of in­vestors. That bat­tle also led to the ouster of chief ex­ec­u­tive Clarence Otis. Lee got the job per­ma­nently in Fe­bru­ary.

Olive Gar­den is one of the seven chains in Darden’s port­fo­lio, but its 840 lo­ca­tions make it the most im­por­tant in the com­pany. It’s also been the poor­est-per­form­ing, only re­cently turn­ing back years of de­clin­ing same-res­tau­rant sales.

Af­ter a menu re­vamp in early 2014, Olive Gar­den has been in­tro­duc­ing high-pro­file items such as bread­stick sand­wiches and more clas­si­cally inspired dishes such as sausage rigatoni.

Sim­ple menu changes have been part of the plan, tak­ing pop­u­lar items and food com­bi­na­tions and pre­sent­ing them in new ways, he said.

Many gov­ern­ment agen­cies and other em­ploy­ers pro­vide em­ployee re­cruit­ment and re­ten­tion in­cen­tives in the form of stu­dent loan as­sis­tance. When look­ing for your first real job af­ter col­lege or per­haps seek­ing an em­ploy­ment up­grade, look for em­ploy­ers who of­fer pro­grams such as these.

Take on ex­tra work

If you’ve got the time and energy, pick up ex­tra work. Whether your cur­rent gig of­fers overtime or you can make money on the week­ends cut­ting grass, con­sider tak­ing on a part-time job to add to your monthly in­come.

Set up pay­roll al­lot­ment

Check with your job’s hu­man re­sources depart­ment, and ask to set up pay­roll al­lot­ment. With pay­roll al­lot­ment, a cer­tain amount of your reg­u­lar pay­check goes di­rectly into another ac­count and not into your main check­ing or sav­ings ac­counts. If you don’t see the money, you won’t be tempted to blow your pay­check.

Say ‘no’ to the 401K plan

Op­po­site most ad­vice you’re most likely re­ceiv­ing, if get­ting out of debt is your No. 1 goal, con­sider de­lay­ing your re­tire­ment sav­ings by 12 months. De­lay­ing the “ben­e­fits” of one

Do you have as­sets that you can sell? If you’ve ac­quired valu­able items that you no longer need or want, con­sider selling them online. Check out sites like eBay and Ama­zon.

Ditch your car

Re­gard­less of your en­vi­ron­men­tal sta­tus, no one can deny the high costs of trans­porta­tion. Look into rideshare and car­pool op­tions. Or, see if your city of­fers public trans­porta­tion.

Re­sist the urge to shop

Do you need new pants or just want new pants? If you can make your wardrobe, cell­phone and shoes go the dis­tance for 12 months with­out up­grades, do it. You’d be sur­prised by how much you save when you stay out of the mall.

Move back in with par­ents

Mov­ing back home is the least fa­vor­able op­tion for many col­lege grads, but in most sit­u­a­tions it’s an op­por­tu­nity to dras­ti­cally re­duce liv­ing ex­penses. If your par­ents would love to have you home to snug­gle with one more year - and they’re will­ing to let you off with low to no over­head costs - this is a sure-fire way to cut costs and ded­i­cate your­self to debt ser­vic­ing.

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