We went to Olive Garden for lunch and couldn't believe how much the brand has improved

Olive garden breadstickBusiness InsiderOne of our breadsticks.

Olive Garden’s business has been under scrutiny since a hedge fund published a 294-page takedown of the brand that criticised its breadsticks strategy, inauthentic menu, and “barely edible” food.

Shareholders responded by replacing the company’s entire board. The new team promised to turn around Olive Garden’s business, which has suffered in an overall casual dining slump.

We went to lunch at a Manhattan Olive Garden today, and it’s obvious that the overhaul is helping business.

First, we were seated immediately. In the past, Olive Garden would make customers wait longer than necessary in order to encourage them to buy drinks at the bar and make the restaurant seem busier than it is.

The “false wait” system underestimated customers’ intelligence and was frustrating in practice.

We also received a menu that clearly stated the lunch specials (an improvement over the previous menu, which was confusing and featured a confusing mix of combinations, promotions, and deals).

In the lunch special, many could order soup, salad, and breadsticks for $US8.99. For a few more dollars, you could add a small portion of pasta.

Our waiter offered us a wine sample, which we declined. He then asked if we wanted dipping sauce for our breadsticks. We accepted marinara, which was a $US4.49 upcharge.

The dipping sauce charge is an easy way for Olive Garden to pad customers’ checks even higher.

My lunch companion and I received five breadsticks. This isn’t in keeping with Olive Garden’s previous policy of one breadstick per person, plus one, but we were happy to have extras.

Less than five minutes after ordering, our food arrives. This speed is key to capturing the lunch customers, who need to get back to work in a timely manner.

Olive garden soupBusiness InsiderThe brand’s pasta e fagioli soup.

The chain’s menu items could still use some work.

In the presentation, Starboard criticised Olive Garden for serving dishes that are “astonishingly far from authentic Italian culture, such as burgers and fries, Spanish tapas, heavy cream sauces, more fried foods, stuffed cheeses, soggy pasta, and bland tomato sauce.”

Many of these items remained on the menu.

The pasta came with meat sauce on top, while Starboard claims it tastes better mixed in.

Making major changes to the menu takes time, so we’ll wait and see what Olive Garden does.

About 25 minutes after arriving at the restaurant, we already had our check, complete with the customary Andes mints. We ask for some breadsticks to-go, and receive an order of seven packed neatly in a pouch.

Our lunch experience at Olive Garden was speedy and efficient. It’s clear that the brand has made some much-needed changes to customer service.

It’s possible customers are noticing the difference.

By the time we left, the restaurant had filled up.

NOW WATCH: When we showed people the food of the future, they were shocked

NOW WATCH: Briefing videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.