Forget Olive Garden: 5 Tasty Restaurants to Add to Your Investment Menu

In this Tuesday, June 19, 2012 photo, patrons arrive at an Olive Garden restaurant in Huntington Beach, Calif. Fiscal fourth quarter earnings for Darden Restaurants Inc. climbed 10 percent as new restaurant revenue helped balance a decline from established Olive Garden and Red Lobster locations. The Orlando, Fla., company also said Friday, June 22, 2012, it will raise the quarterly dividend it pays shareholders by 16 percent. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP, Jae C. Hong
Olive Garden has a problem, and it has nothing to do with how warn the baskets of bread sticks arriving to your table are, or the fettuccine not tasting as fresh to you as it once did.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) -- the parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse -- is in a funk; earnings and same-restaurant sales both declined during the fiscal year that ended in May.
Comps rebounded in Darden's latest quarter, but that rise came at the expense of heavy promotional activity, and profitability took a 12 percent hit.

It's not just Darden. The casual dining industry itself is going through an identity crisis as customers are choosing fresher concepts that give diners the convenience, quality, and value that they desire. Analysts see Darden and Chili's parent Brinker (EAT) growing in the low- to mid-single digits through the next couple of years.

But there are some far more appetizing operators out there.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been covering the food and restaurants industry for Motley Fool since 1995. He has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings and Darden. Try any of The Motley Fool newsletter services free for 30 days.

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I have tried all the suggestions and they mostly suck from mildly (Noodles) to badly (Joe\'s Crab Shack)... Some are just irrelevant.

While Darden\'s properties are slipping, its not the food, its the prices. Most places (O\'Charley\'s, Houlihan\'s, Elephant Bar, etc offer \"Two for $20 \" specials, Lobster and Garden offer only $5 off.

Its a small thing, but if you don\'t think this works, don\'t go back and watch MR.MOM and the Schooner Tuna story..

August 16 2013 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

OG is on my list of restaurants I will never eat at again...Red Lobster, Chilis....Overpriced low quality food...MCDs is a better value. Not impressed with Noodles and they are popping up everywhere..Wouldnt invest in that. Chuys is decent but a little pricy in a tough Mexican food marketplace. Crab shack is even less tasty than its name.

August 16 2013 at 2:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Olive Garden is trying to offer some limited time deals plus new dinners but the prices have soared out of control and have been cheapened, example, the salad, you know longer get a mixed green, romaine, only iceberg. And although we are supposed to be watching our portion control, paying 16.95 for the Tour of Italy, the chicken is now a small once frozen chicken patty, the Lasagna is a spoon scoop and you can count the strands of fettuccine. Plus one of the most important aspects, customer service, is horrible. My favorite place to eat has become my home, here I can control all aspects.

August 16 2013 at 10:44 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Rick why so much hate?

August 16 2013 at 9:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How stupid are you people?? Have you not looked around you, or are you just so fooled by Obama that you don't see that the economy has been on the downturn since late 2007?!?! And on the rare occasion that I do clean out my change drawer to go out, I want GOOD food, not tasteless, often unappetizing-looking mush for the healthy, gluten-free, organic vegetarians and all types thereof. I want food that I can ENJOY, no matter how "good they are" for me. Guys, look around you--people are in financial trouble, and when we splurge, we want to enjoy it! Now think about that, all you corporate types, then go back to the (old) drawing board--oops, menu.

August 16 2013 at 8:11 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

This is exactly why I started cooking a whole lot more in the last 2 or 3 years. Turns out once you get the hang of it cooking really isn't that hard to do. What's more is that now IF I go to a restaurant I can taste everything wrong with the food that I never noticed before(like canned sauces or a microwaved "gourmet" meal). Plus it's hard to look at a plate of anything like chicken fettucine, enchiladas, or baked salmon with veggies or anything that tastes, eh, okay and realize I could have made it at home for way cheaper and way tastier. Where are the good restaurants? They only seem to be on tv.

August 16 2013 at 3:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
R Baby Kat

I love Olive Garden, thank you very much.

August 15 2013 at 7:07 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
James G. Banks

What's wrong with these places is everyone is tired of the watered down, let's try to market to everyone food stuff. They try to market crossbreed dishes that have a little taste of everything when the customer is burnt out on this variety concept. The customer wants a dish with a lot of taste of one thing that is complimented by the rest of the meal. They need to stop with the let's throw everything in the kitchen into the pot attitude. Reality, clam chowder style pastas are a joke. Mexican style lobster is an even bigger joke. Mexican style seafood pasta is an even bigger joke.

August 15 2013 at 7:00 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to James G. Banks's comment

Well said!!

August 16 2013 at 8:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

We tried Carrabas once. It was okay, though on the pricey side. We haven\'t been back. Once you are spending a bit more, there are better places for fish and pasta... at least where we live.
We used to eat at Chili\'s regularly, at least once a month.Bur we got tired of it. The last time we went, it was a Tuesday and half the restaurant was closed because they did not expect much business. However on that particular Tuesday the place was packed, but since there was not the wait staff to open the section that had been shut down, there was an exceptionally long wait for a table, a waitress, a menu, and the food, which was not well prepared when it finally did arrive. To their credit, when I complained on the website, they sent two $10 gift certificates.

August 15 2013 at 2:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Pollo Tropical opened in New Jersey and closed in less than a year.The first time we stopped there for lunch , shortly after the Grand Opening, it seemed to be good value for your money. The second time, we were not impressed. I think the portions may have been smaller, the chicken less tasty, the rice dried out, whatever. Anyway we decided not to go back, and soon it closed, with the explanation that they never wanted a New Jersey location - one of their executives had pushed it, and, when he was pushed out, Good bye, Jersey.

August 15 2013 at 2:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply