Olive Garden has hatched a nefarious plot to lure Millennials into its den of Hospitaliano using tapas (which aren't actually Italian, but whatever). According to Bloomberg, the chain restaurant has tested a small plates menu in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and will soon launch it nationwide. Dishes include fried risotto balls and garlic hummus and chicken skewers and something called Pizza Fritta Napoli, which is basically just fried pizza dough dipped in cheese sauce (see above).
UPDATE: Olive Garden tells Eater "'Tapas' was Bloomberg's description, not ours," but did confirm the presence of hummus on the menu.
Olive Garden is honestly a little late to the concept of wooing young people by forcing them to share shrunken portion sizes: back in April, TGI Friday's took a stab at small plates as well. Other restaurant trends the chains have co-opted in pursuit of that shiny, shiny youth market (with varying degrees of success): craft beer, open kitchens, clubbing, fusion, seasonal food, food trucks, and upscale lounges.
In any case, the chain that made the never-ending bowl of pasta famous has to do something to get young money in the door. As its clientele of boomers ages, Olive Garden has found it difficult to bounce back from the economic downturn, reporting declining sales in "five of the last eight quarters." Bloomberg also notes they've cut down on opening new locations "to focus on attracting new customers." Are tapas the magic Spanish key to Millennial-fueled success? Perhaps not, but a chain can dream.
· Olive Garden Woos Millennials With Tapas to Revive Sales [Bloomberg]
· All Olive Garden Coverage on Eater [-E-]