Some changes Olive Garden customers might see

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW YORK (AP) — Changes are likely in store for Olive Garden with a new board of directors at the helm.

Activist investor Starboard Value on Friday succeeded in its push to replace all 12 seats on Darden Restaurants' board with its own nominees. It's not clear yet how Starboard will try to shake up the company right away. But last month, it issued a 294-page presentation detailing what it thought Darden's management was doing wrong.

Here are some of Starboard's criticisms that might give a clue on changes diners might see:

—SALTIER PASTA: Starboard took issue with Olive Garden for failing to salt its pasta water. "How does the largest Italian dining concept in the world not salt the water for pasta?" it asked. It cited a cookbook that said "... it's simple: the water should be salty, Atlantic Ocean salty ... "

—BREADSTICK CONTROL: Olive Garden's famous unlimited breadstick policy also came under criticism. Starboard says servers need to be more disciplined in how many they bring out at a time. The hedge fund says the chain could reduce waste by bringing out one breadstick per guest, plus an extra for the table — in line with the official policy.

Starboard CEO Jeff Smith made clear on Friday that he didn't want to stop people from asking for more, however. "I love Olive Garden's unlimited breadsticks," he said at the shareholder meeting.

—SIMPLER ITALIAN MENU: Menu items like burgers, Spanish tapas and fried foods like "Lasagna Fritta" were criticized for being inauthentic or unappealing. It also noted Olive Garden's menu has mushroomed to 96 items. Darden executives have acknowledged the need to simplify.

—WINE WITH THAT? Alcohol should account for a higher percentage of sales, given how well it pairs with Italian food, according to Starboard. Alcohol only accounts for 8 percent of sales, which Starboard said is "unacceptable" and less than half that of some of its competitors.