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Olive Garden to add 20 items to menu

Following on the heels of disappointing sales and shareholder discontent, Darden on Tuesday announced a menu overhaul at its largest restaurant division, Olive Garden.

Olive Garden operates restaurants throughout the region, including Springfield, Middletown, Beavercreek, Miami Twp., Butler Twp. and Fairfield.

In its announcement, Olive Garden called the addition of more than 20 new menu items and other changes “the most comprehensive menu evolution in its history.”

The new menu “is designed to give our guests an enhanced experience by giving them new flavors, more variety and everyday value,” said Jay Spenchian, executive vice president of marketing for Olive Garden.

It also allows diners to customize their meals, a trend in dining that was accelerated by the success of Chipotle and other casual dining chains that allow customers to call the shots on what ingredients go into their meal.

Olive Garden’s new “Cucina Mia” offerings give diners the ability to create their own entree from among six pastas and five sauces, for $9.99. Sauce choices include Creamy Garlic Asiago, Primavera, Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato, Spicy Diavolo, or Fresh Tomato Pomodoro. Toppings such as chicken or sausage meatballs or sauteed shrimp can be added at additional cost.

The menu changes come as both Olive Garden and its parent company have struggled. In its most recent quarterly earnings report in December, Darden reported a 31 percent drop in net earnings, to $19.8 million, and said Olive Garden sales dropped 0.6 percent from the previous year. The company announced after its quarterly report that it would seek to spin off or sell its Red Lobster seafood restaurant chain.

Olive Garden operates more than 800 restaurants, employs 96,000 and generates more than $3.6 billion in annual sales. Its parent company, Darden, also operates LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille and other chains.

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