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Big chain goes small plates: Darden testing ‘Taste of Italy Small Plates’ in Louisville


og_21871_fy14_fall_tt_v6(Editor’s note: Steve Coomes and Terry Boyd contributed to this post.)

Restaurant trends start with local chefs and indie restaurants and trickle up to the big national chains, where most people eat.

Last year, Bistro 1860 was the first non-tapas restaurant in Louisville to have a hit offering diners small plates of great food instead of piles of mediocre food.

Now, Orlando-based Darden Concepts, the corporate parent of Olive Garden and other fast-casual national brands, is jumping on board, testing their version of small plates in Louisville.

Olive Garden’s test is called “Taste of Italy Small Plates.”

Louisville joins cities across the United States, from LA to DC. The idea is, more if Darden can generate more traffic, that will push earnings even though the per-person dinner or lunch tab likely will be smaller.

Small plates are priced at $4 and $5, according to an Associated Press story, which Darden media people are pushing out to generate publicity for the move.

From the AP story:

The tests come as Darden works to revamp the image of Olive Garden to better reflect changing eating habits. For example, the chain started adding lighter dishes last year, which executives have said are already getting about 10 percent of orders. As it works to fix its menu, Darden is also trying to attract customers by aggressively pushing deals and touting its affordable prices.

Since 2008, Darden’s customer traffic is down about 8 percent, according to AP. That also includes the Orlando, Fla., company’s Red Lobster and Long Horn Steakhouse chains.

It should be said that Darden’s Seasons 52 chain, which has about 30 units and serves healthful entrees never exceeding 475 calories each, has proven a great testing ground for the company.

Its desserts, which are dubbed “Mini Indulgences,” are served in a trio of shot-glass sized portions of different offerings chosen by guests.

It’s safe to say we can expect big things from little portions coming out of Olive Garden very soon.



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