When in doubt, rebrand. That seems to increasingly be true for struggling chains in the retail and hospitality sectors. But it's often a case of too little, too late, the last gasp of a tired and fading business. For example, we were dubious about what a difference last year's RadioShack makeover would make to a retail concept that has simply run out of steam. The numbers are now in, with RadioShack reporting a yearly loss of almost half a billion dollars and plans to shutter more than 1,000 stores. Guess we'll have to find a new place to buy... er, whatever it was they sold.
Now Darden Restaurants, parent of the Olive Garden chain of Italian restaurants, is making what would seem to be a rather desperate attempt to pull out of a sales slump, by putting in place a sweeping series of changes that it hopes will result in no less than a "brand renaissance." Of course for a renaissance, literally a "rebirth," to take place, something must first have died — so perhaps Darden management could have picked a more upbeat term for its efforts.
But let's leave bottom-line issues to the suits who get well paid to worry about them. What about that new logo? The previous one evoked an old-Italy mood, along the lines of a small family restaurant. The new version seems to be going for a more modern "designy" mood but falls short through the use of eccentric lettering — although you have to like the capital O now looking like an olive. The strapline has also changed, from "Italian restaurant" to "Italian kitchen," which is confusing, when you think about it. The 3D grapes have been replaced by stylized olive branches and the color palette simplified, while the textured surfaces and shadows have been eliminated.
Several years ago Olive Garden CEO Clarence Otis indicated that the current pseudo-Tuscan farmhouse theme would be giving way to a more pseudo-modern interpretation of Italian food. Taken in the context of the other upcoming changes (PDF), which include major menu restructuring, restaurant exterior and interior redesigns, and even new employee training, the new logo direction makes sense. If only the execution had been better.