Established in 1982, Olive Garden is a chain of fast casual dining of Italian-American cuisine, famous for its endless supply of bread sticks (and salad) during the meal and infamous for serving subpar food in cookie-cutter, generic, faux-Italian settings. There are more than 800 Olive Gardens around the world; the large majority in the U.S. but locations range from Mexico to Canada to Kuwait. Olive Garden is owned by Darden Restaurants, who own a total of 2,100 restaurants that also include Red Lobster and LongHorn steakhouse. In an investor presentation this month, Darden announced that because of Olive Garden’s “same-restaurant sales lagging Knapp-Track recently” they are “implementing a comprehensive brand renaissance plan to regain momentum” that includes a redesigned logo and restaurant, among other changes. The full investor presentation (PDF) states that Lippincott “assisted” in the redesign of the logo but clear, full credit is not given.
New logo development based on work assisted by Lippincott, a nationally-recognized design firm, that started with the modified brand positioning as the foundation for initial creative design, followed by qualitative research to further shape the design, then validated based on quantitative research to confirm the final design.
The reason this review is a few days late and behind the rest of the internet is because I was trying to see if I could get any additional information or images beyond what was released. Unfortunately there was nothing else to be had but in between the announcement and today, the response to the Olive Garden redesign has grown surprisingly and unnecessarily mean. Before I could get to it, The Fox is Black has compiled some of the harsher criticisms of the new logo that, more than harsh critiques are mean-spirited “snarkoulism” (snark + journalism), particularly Fast Co.Design’s review that should make its editors recoil with embarrassment. Does the logo deserve the despondent response it has received? Yes. But the feedback is useless when the best thing the media can compare the logo to is children’s cursive writing.
I think I have eaten at Olive Garden once, or perhaps it was Macaroni Grill, who knows. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t awful. It’s just an average American chain trying to pass on as a faux, distilled, bizarro-world experience of what it might be like to eat pasta in Tuscany. The old logo reflected that perfectly: the faux stucco texture, the giant grapes on a vine, the friendly script wordmark. Nothing about it is genuine. And that’s fine because there is nothing genuine about Olive Garden representing Tuscany. The problem with the new logo is that it is attempting to transform most of the previous logo’s elements into something contemporary and fresh. The grapes are now generic-looking olive branches; the texture is gone; the word “Kitchen” has replaced “Restaurant” in the logo’s descriptor; and the more “human” script typography has been replaced by an upright, clearly computer-made script font — an extremely bizarre and inconsistent set of letters, granted. Whatever small semblance of hand-craftedness the old logo had is completely gone now.
As a graphic device that is meant to be reproduced constantly, the new logo is much better — it’s scalable and only needs two colors. But as a graphic device meant to convey joyous pasta dinners in a family-oriented setting this logo is simply too chic for its own good, looking more appropriate for a body wash brand or even, obviously, a range of cooking oils. There is a big dissonance between this logo and the image we have of Olive Garden and it’s going to take a lot more than an investor presentation to convince the media that this is the right logo but perhaps in five years it will be just right. I am not defending the logo because the execution is completely bonkers but the aesthetic and message it’s aiming for are, arguably, going in the right direction and as long as that direction includes endless breadsticks, I believe the ROI will be evident.
Thanks to Nathan Longbrook for the tip.