Olive Garden Is Doing Very Well Again. Here's an Astonishing Reason Why

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

There are some existential questions that never get old.

Why, for example, do Prius drivers insist on sitting in the outside lane, while going slower than cars in the other lanes?

Why do software engineers need to watch so many cartoons?

And why do people still go to Olive Garden?

Now, though, it appears to be experiencing a return to glory that Conan O’Brien would envy.

Marketwatch reports that Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, is enjoying a large boost to its share price.

Of course there’s the fine takeout packaging, the child-tolerant nature of the staff and the advertising that allegedly makes people hungry just by looking at it. (Seriously.)

And yes, Olive Garden’s reputation seems to be holding up far better than many fast casual chains, who struggle to remain relevant as millennials order their Hello Fresh and Home Chef.

It’s the fifth pillar of Olive Garden’s robust edifice that is most surprising: the cleanliness of its bathrooms.

I fear some might scoff at the notion. Can a clean bathroom really make such a difference?

But don’t bathrooms speak loudly about the buildings they’re in and the people who manage them? 

If a bathroom is clean and well-designed, doesn’t it suggest that someone has bothered to make it so? 

And if they have, indeed, bothered doesn’t it offer a clue that the restaurant might have some standards of, say, hygiene?

As well as of hospitality? 

When you have guests for dinner, don’t you rush around your bathroom at the last minute and make sure the towels are clean, there’s no toothpaste stains in the sink, the very telling things in the waste basket are discreetly removed and the magazines have been put back in a neat pile?

I find small elements of admiration creeping toward Olive Garden for, well, simply for bothering.

Yes, I’m sure the breadsticks, Pasta Passes and general large dollops of food are enticing for many.

And I have a feeling not too many people actually say: “Let’s go to Olive Garden tonight, so that we can go to the bathroom!”

The subliminal appeals of certain places, however, should never be underestimated.

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American Airlines Has Changed Something Very Basic About Its Service. It Just Hasn't Told Passengers Yet

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Airlines are run with very little room for maneuver.

Once the system breaks down in a single place, it can have a terrible knock-on effect. 

And, of course, every new decision taken at the top has little consequences lower down.

It can all add up.

Have you noticed, for example, that the boarding time on your American Airlines boarding pass doesn’t always correspond with when the plane actually boards?

Yes, sometimes it’s delayed. Because delays are an integral part of flying enjoyment.

Sometimes, though, flights are boarding early. 

After all, there’s only one aisle and scores of fraying tempers.

There’s also the pressure all American employees feel to get the planes out on time.

Still, it can be annoying to turn up at the gate on time for boarding and discover that, oh, it’s already begun.

Cue the involuntary spasms caused by wondering whether there’ll still be overhead bin space.

Why, though, doesn’t American have the correct boarding time on its boarding passes?

View From The Wing’s Gary Leff offers darkly: “This is a known issue at American, and one they’ve chosen not to spend on the IT to fix.”

I asked American the inside story.

An airline spokesperson offered: 

It is not that we don’t want to update our IT. We have many projects we are working on, and we expect the fix will be in place in November.

In essence, then, the airline simply hasn’t got around to it.

Can’t you see that it’s busy?

Actually, I’m sure it is. Management puts all sorts of pressure on employees to deliver on a whole range of new parameters, as the big airlines fight for marginally more business and try to squeeze additional revenue from passengers.

Someone has to implement all that. That’s not always easy.

And have you seen how often airline IT systems break down? Why, American’s last vast issue was only in June.

Honestly, dear passenger, you can be so annoyingly inconsiderate sometimes.

Just wait in line, would you?

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7 Things Introverts Wish Extraverts Knew

As I pointed out a few columns ago, introverts tend to be more creative, more reliable, more trustworthy and to work harder than extraverts. Not surprisingly the great inventors and innovators of history have been markedly introverted: Einstein, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Isaac Newton, Nikola Tesla, Archimedes, and Charles Darwin.

Insanely, though, contemporary business culture values extraversion.  They hire people based upon first impressions (extraverts are good at that), goal them on “collaborating” (which extraverts love) and then spending billions of dollars creating open plan playgrounds perfectly suited for extraverts.

As I said, insane. Or maybe “inane” is the mot juste.  

Anyway, because of the egregious management boneheadedness, most workplaces are dominated by extraverts… to the great detriment of both productivity and innovation. However, since, alas that’s not likely to change any time soon, introverts and extraverts will need to learn how to get along.

Unfortunately, while introverts can see right through extraverts, extraverts simply don’t seem to grok introverts at all. So, since I’m off-the-scale introverted, I’ll take in on myself to speak for my fellow introverts to tell the extraverts what we wish they already knew. Here goes:

1. You’re talking too much.

Introverts are good listeners but the fact that we’re listening to you and not saying anything doesn’t mean that we’re enthralled by everything you’re saying. Quite the contrary. If you’ve been talking for more than a couple of minutes without pause, we’ve mentally proceeded from “What a bore!” to “OMG, will he never stop talking!?” to “For God’s sake, STFU!!” We’re not going to say anything, though, because if we did, we would never hear the end of it.

2. We don’t want to change.

Even though it’s abundantly clear that society (in general) and workplaces (in particular) tend to value outgoing “people-people,” we introverts don’t want to, nor feel the need to, change to fit other people’s ideas of how we ought to act and feel. We’re perfectly fine the way we are, thank you very much. What’s more, we’d greatly appreciate it if you stopped assuming we envy you. We don’t. Believe me. We don’t want to be like you.

3. Give us private offices or let us work-from-home.

Today’s open plan offices are productivity toilets and health hazards for everyone. For introverts, though, they’re particularly hellish because there’s no way to get away from other people. Forcing an introvert to work in an open plan office is like forcing an extravert to spend all day in solitary confinement. We need privacy. Please have the common sense and common decency to give it to us.

4. We resent doing more than our share.

Because extraverts spend so much time collaborating, sharing, and gossiping, the burden of actually getting real work accomplished falls to the introverts. After a while–no, scratch that–from day one, we resent that you waste time and money socializing while we’re working our asses off. And we really resent it when you pipe up to steal the credit.

5. Leave us alone to recharge.

Introverts feel physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually drained after being forced to interact with other people. The only way that we can recharge is by disconnecting and being by ourselves. Yes, we know that you draw energy from other people. Like a vampire. But we’re the opposite. So when you see us sitting by ourselves, don’t think you’re doing us a favor by pestering us. You’re not.

6. We are not shy loners.

Quite the contrary. Introverts are often talented at public speaking. We often have a small circle of close friends and family with whom we enjoy spending time. We’re not bashful about our accomplishments; we just don’t feel the need to toot our own horns. We don’t talk about ourselves because we’d rather talk about something more interesting than stuff we already know.

7. Go away, please.

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Airbnb Just Revealed 3 Statistics That Will Change the Way You Lead

The surprising results

The Airbnb Plus survey had three key findings noteworthy for entrepreneurs and leaders:

  • People would rather have more comforts, such as super soft sheets, than an Internet connection. 59 percent in the U.S., 46 percent in Australia and 39 percent in Italy said air conditioning was the most important indoor amenity, beating WiFi and full kitchens.
  • Functionality is the highest valued amenity trait (43 percent), followed by thoughtfulness (e.g., leaving guests a bottle of wine) (29 percent).
  • Even though people will put the Internet aside, the “cool factor” matters to millennials (12 percent), with 58 percent saying social-media-worthy accommodations are a major factor when booking a stay.

Amber Cartwright, Global Design Lead for Airbnb Plus, translates the data and dissects what’s driving the findings.

“When traveling, people want to escape their everyday lives of emails and notifications and immerse themselves in a new place far from reality. Instead of connectivity, they prefer a comfortable place to call home with thoughtful touches that represent the local community, which are both amenities Airbnb Plus hosts provide.”

Cartwright also interprets the desire for shareworthy locations as more than just the desire to keep up with the Joneses.

“Though the shareability factor with friends and family is a motivation,” Cartwright says, “it’s no surprise that amenities that look incredible on social media–like infinity pools with a view or a kitchen fit for a chef–also make for an exceptional stay.”

In other words, it all ties back to the trend for an emphasis on memorable experience. Travelers blow up their Instagram feed with pictures of material stuff not to show off, but because the amenities affect the story of the trip, shaping what the travelers do and remember.

The big picture

So what can you take away from all this as people on your team start calling airlines and hotels?

  • For real vacations, leave. People. Alone. Workers are desperate to simplify and get away from responsibilities for a little while. Stop sending emails or asking them to get on your chat platform.
  • If employees are traveling for their jobs, they’ll appreciate you finding accommodations where they’re treated better than robots. Make the effort to find locations where people can feel welcome and at home, as that makes them happier and more relaxed so they actually can be productive for you. As Cartwright summarizes, “never underestimate the power of a personal touch”, whether that’s for your partners, employees or customers.
  • Don’t be surprised when team members tell you they’re going to locations that don’t immediately come to mind as vacation destinations. According to Cartwright, because people are willing to unplug, they’re increasingly booking stays in more remote places where they can fully reset. They’ll appreciate it if you do a little research to suggest some more far-flung possibilities to your team so they see what’s out there. Maybe you could even offer incentives or a contest for employees who go somewhere they’ve never been. While you don’t necessarily want to insist they do word-of-mouth advertising for you while they’re away, encourage them to make connections wherever they visit that could grow your business later on.

As you chew on this data, take to heart that the majority of people in the United States still struggle to use the vacation time given to them. Even though they want to get away and perhaps even recognize the mental and physical benefits of doing so, they still feel pressured to stay nose-to-the-grindstone 24/7. If you can model breaks yourself, if you can work mandatory time off into policy to show vacations are safe, do it. Use the information above not only to provide amazing, restorative trips, but to expand your company, too.

Published on: Sep 21, 2018

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