Olive Garden’s sales are booming — but the chain is still breaking a basic rule of Italian cooking.
The Italian chain still does not add salt to the pasta water, reports the Wall Street Journal.
According to executives, adding salt to the boiling water could jeopardize warranties on pots. The company reportedly decided that updated sauces add enough flavour to the pasta on their own, without added salt.
Salting (or not salting) water became a major issue at Olive Garden in September 2014, when activist investor Starboard called out the chain for ignoring the ingredient.
“Shockingly, Olive Garden no longer salts the water it uses to boil the pasta, merely to get a longer warranty on its pots,” Starboard wrote in a 300-slide presentation. “This appalling decision shows just how little regard management has for delivering a quality experience to guests.”
One slide in the Starboard presentation pointed out that “the first step of Pasta 101 is to salt the water.”
According to Smithsonian Magazine, adding salt to the water gives the pasta a better flavour.
“Do as Mario Batali does and salt the water until it ‘tastes like the sea,'” the magazine instructs.
Since the call-out, Starboard has pulled off a shareholder coup and made major changes at the chain, including simplifying the menu, adding tabletop tablets, and investing in take-out.
“The overall experience inside an Olive Garden is significantly better than it was 12 to 24 months ago,” Olive Garden CEO Gene Lee said during the company’s earnings call on Tuesday.
The company reported its best quarterly sales in years, with a 6.8% increase in same-store sales in the quarter ending Feb. 28., marking the company’s sixth consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains.