Olive Garden: Cheap eats aren’t always enough


Olive Garden has conceded it needs to make changes to address lackluster sales figures for five quarters in a row.

Although the chain offers “affordable Italian food,” which should be a plus in this economy, it has been suffering from competition from fast-casual chains like Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill, Motley Fool reports.

One person says Olive Garden plays Dean Martin music and expects that to provide an Italian atmosphere, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Company officials have acknowledged the need to make changes, and plan to introduce healthier, low-cost meals, Yahoo Finance reports. Other changes will include remodeled restaurants and a new ad campaign.

I agree with what one person posted in comment boards on Yahoo Finance: Olive Garden needs to focus on the food. Americans are demanding more healthy, fresh food, not frozen. If you have good food at a reasonable price, you have most of the components in place (along with good marketing to tout these changes). I recently dined at Carrabba’s with my wife, and the food was delicious, and the atmosphere was pleasant.

Oh, and I would ditch Dean Martin for authentic Italian music. Sorry Dean, but the Rat Pack needs a vacation.

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Getting paid to drink coffee


I got paid today at a local coffee house for the second time this week.

I found a handful of change in the drive-through at the coffee house while walking to the front entrance: 42 cents in dimes and pennies.

I found 17 cents the other day.

On top of this great find, I’m getting free coffee this month from the coffee chain because I bought into a promotion–buy a particular travel mug, get free coffee in January. That’s what brought me to that coffee house this afternoon. That was a sweet deal!

You may say that 59 cents is just change. Yes, it is. But it adds up over time. I don’t recall ever finding this much change at once, but I always pick up pennies or other change whenever I see them (unless it means risking my life in traffic). I’ve only been fortunate to find dollar bills a few times. My Dad used to find $20 bills, and once, a $100 bill, but that’s been years ago.

My point is this: Paying attention can pay off, literally, whether it’s picking up change from the ground, or paying attention to the details at work. One of my former newspaper employers had a saying: Details make the difference.Your customers expect — and deserve — for you to pay attention to the details. If you take care of the details, you will have happy customers.

My Dad draws industrial blueprints, and companies from around the world demand that he handle their multimillion-dollar projects because he pays attention to the details; the customers know their orders will be taken care of when my Dad handles their project.

And if you don’t want to bother picking up change from the ground, that’s fine by me–it’s your loss and my gain!

Starfish and spiders as problem-solvers


A lot of business books claim to provide vital knowledge. Every so often one of these books actually delivers.

Last fall I read a fascinating book titled “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations” by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom. The term “starfish” refers to leaderless organizations like Wikipedia, while “spider” refers to a company that has a traditional top-down leadership model.

I was fascinated by the concept of leaderless organizations, never having thought of Craigslist or Napster in that fashion. Although those websites had founders who administered them, their success was based on users having the right to act as co-administrators. This makes sense in hindsight – think of the popularity of television shows like “American Idol” where audience members vote to determine the contest’s winner. Realty show voting and Internet sites give everyone a voice in this age of social networking.

I’ve been revisiting “The Starfish” lately to gain new insights into the starfish concept. One chapter is devoted to hybrid organizations, or those that have aspects of both starfish (leaderless) and spiders (top-down management). The chapter mentions the work of David Cooperrider, a professor at Case Western Business School who developed the concept of “appreciative inquiry.”

Appreciative inquiry is used to solve problems in organizations. People from all levels of a company participate in pairs to interview one another. As the book states, a janitor may ask the CEO questions, which are provided by Cooperrider to encourage people to open up. Cooperrider’s intention is to break down the hierarchy. After the interviews conclude, participants get together to brainstorm, and every person’s idea is treated with respect. Since everyone feels they had a voice, they are more likely to buy into any plans that result from the session.

The “Starfish” authors make their case for the appreciative inquiry technique despite its sounding like a “touchy-feely” method. They note that the technique led to resolving a dispute between truckers and management at one of the world’s largest truck companies. The process also was credited with the creation of a strategic plan at the U.S. Navy.

You don’t have to view conflicts as an unavoidable part of doing business; disagreement can be healthy when it is managed effectively and channeled into creative problem-solving where everyone’s voice is heard in a respectful way. It’s only when respect is thrown out and disagreement is unmanaged that it becomes destructive conflict.

A day of teaching classes in Olomouc, Czech Republic


Our group helped teach two university classes today at Univerzita Palackého in Olomouc, Czech Republic. Dr. Adina Scruggs has been teaching at the university all week and has introduced the students to the SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats). SWOT is used to analyze business strengths and weaknesses.

My group, including Josh Rule, Benton Jones and Julian Bennett, led groups of four to five students in analyzing businesses using SWOT. Czech universities normally only lecture to students and do not engage them in interactive learning, so Adina has been working to overcome that cultural barrier, which the students seemed to appreciate. They loved learning about American culture, from discussing music to how our university and colleges operate. Then, some of the students led us on a tour of their town, which dates to the 10th century.

Now, we’re back in Brno preparing to leave to Prague in a few hours–another early morning and lots of commuting.

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