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When You're Here, You Wait

Vu Chung

Have you ever wondered why there’s always a wait at Olive Garden? On the average, the wait time for a table is 30-45 minutes, regardless of the number of people in your party. At first I thought it was just this one particular Olive Garden near my parents that had slow service. However, after having tried a number of Olive Gardens from New York to Myrtle Beach, Dallas and Los Angeles, I am convinced that it’s part of the Olive Garden casual dining experience. And I don’t appreciate it!

I cannot imagine keeping my clients waiting. If a request comes in via email and the account team doesn't have an immediate answer, we still reply immediately to ensure the client that we have received the request and letting him/her know when to expect the deliverable. Then, we will make sure that we deliver before the set deadline. At the end of the day, speed or responsiveness is one of the fundamental success drivers for any businesses. Any business textbook will tell you that, right?

But, Olive Garden is a different animal. Even with such slow service, its same-restaurant sales are estimated to increase. What is the secret? According to a 2009 Fast Company article, the success “has been a combination of leading-edge technology that helps make a notoriously unpredictable business more efficient.” What efficiency are we talking about because clearly it’s not about prompt seating.

The cynic in me thinks that Olive Garden makes the customers wait on purpose to create a perception that the restaurant is very popular, which translates to quality food and services; hence, the wait. If my theory is correct, clearly it is working.

If anyone can tell me why people are willing to wait for mediocre Italian food, please share. I am dying to know.

By the way, if you must go to an Olive Garden to dine with a small party (2-4 people), ask to sit at the bar area. You’ll get immediate seating. CJP  

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