Five things Olive Garden should dump...now

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Olive Garden just announced that it would be kicking fries and milkshakes off of the children's menu at all its restaurants, replacing them with smoothies and grapes. This move is designed to please parents who drag their squirming spawn into the post-popular Italian chain, but it's tough breaks for servers, because smashed fries are easier to clean out of the carpets than sticky, mangled grapes.

But instead of making token public relations gestures, Olive Garden should consider hucking a few more things out the back door and actually making the restaurant an acceptable place to eat again, rather than just a tacky, played-out, ersatz-Italy with terrible wine and respectable bread sticks.

Here are five things that Olive Garden should dump...now!

What part of Italy is this crap from?
5. The Roman orgy of passé décor.

I miss the days when Olive Garden was decorated with dusty, fake potted plants, brick walls and the occasional lousy wall mural of Venice. The new, plastered-over walls, frightening topiaries and counterfeit Roman pillars are about as artistic and meaningful as a studio apartment with a lava lamp and a Guns N' Roses tie-dyed tapestry over the front window. Save people the feeling that they are shopping at the beat-up bins at Kohl's, since they're going straight there after lunch, anyway. Take it back to a few brick walls with a lame watercolor of some green beans.

4. The anachronistic servers' uniforms. Making the wait staff dress themselves up every day in long-sleeved, button-down white shirts, black dress pants and ties, on their own dime, is downright malicious, and borders on fashion abuse. If T.G.I. Friday's can shitcan the stripes and flair, then maybe you guys and gals up top at the OG can ease up and provide your employees with a comfy bowling shirt, or maybe tank tops with little meatballs on them. The current uniforms are hot and hard to keep clean, and the hapless victims of your uniform edicts are working -- not enjoying vodka gimlets at the Friars' Club.

3. The Chicken Parmigiana. What used to be breaded by hand, fresh every day, is now encased in a chilly plastic bag, hauled out of the freezer, and unceremoniously dumped, portion by portion, into a greasy fry basket. Slop some red sauce on it, toss a few strands of cheese on it and out it goes. If Olive Garden would go back to making the chicken Parmigiana fresh, it could still be doused with tomato sauce and cheese and sent out the window faster than the bartenders could make a cocktail in a kiddie cup -- and at least it would be worth ordering again.
2. Principato wines. We all get that Olive Garden is really, really trying to pimp out its house wines. Principato wines, exclusive to the OG, are shipped in from a distributor in Florida; I'm not entirely sure what vineyard, if any, produces this glug. If it's a mythical winery next door to the OG's fictitious Tuscan cooking school, then that would account for the glaring mediocrity of the red, white and blush. Stop trying to shove your wretched brew off on unsuspecting, inexperienced diners, and instead use it to clean the floors in the walk-ins. If people want a cheap buzz, send 'em to the liquor store for bottles of Sutter Home -- it would be an improvement. 1. The illusion that you are any better than Fazoli's. Olive Garden may have been a decent spaghetti shop years ago, but I used to vote Green Party years ago, and times have changed. You can keep playing Volare over and over, keep jacking up your prices and keep trying to drown customers in vats of Riunite Lambrusco if you like, but sooner or later all of your customers are going to realize that they can get the same family togetherness, get the same mid-rate pasta and pay much less for it at Fazoli's. And here's the shocking truth: the Fazoli's breadsticks are comparable to yours.

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