5,000 signatures reached
To: Darden Restaurants and Starboard Value
Darden: We Want a Seat at the Table
As an Olive Garden employee, I know that there is a lot that its parent company, Darden Restaurants, can do to make it a better place for employees. As a starting point, I want the leadership of Starboard Value, a hedge fund taking an increasing amount of control over the company, to meet with employees like me and listen to our concerns.
Why is this important?
Having worked at restaurants for 15 years -- including at the Olive Garden for six years -- I know the industry well. Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, can do a lot more to make its restaurants better places to work, but first they need to listen to their employees.
For example, in January, the company got rid of automatic gratuity for large parties. It might not seem like much, but when a large party takes up a lot of your shift, those tips make a big difference. Managers told us it was for legal reasons, but I later learned it was because Darden wanted to save a little money on its taxes. I wish the company would've first considered the impact on its servers. We depend on those tips to pay our bills.
Another issue is what I call "stuttering breaks." We are told to take a 30 minute break, then asked to wait another hour before returning to work -- all of it off the clock. This seems like a terrible way to run a business, and it takes its toll on staff. How can we make a living when we're not sure how many hours we'll work from week to week?
In six years of working at Olive Garden, I've noticed that it's getting harder and harder for employees to make ends meet. I've had to move back in with my parents in order to afford to finish my college degree in software engineering. I can't imagine how my coworkers with kids -- coworkers who I care deeply about and spend much of my time with -- are able to make it.
I want to see the Olive Garden, and all Darden restaurants (which also include LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's, and Yard House) become great places to work. Darden is such a large employer that if they do more to support employees like me, they can set a standard for the industry -- and they'll get to have their pick of the best employees, too.
Now is the time for company leaders to meet with the staff at their restaurants. We all belong to this company and we've got a stake in its survival. At the end of July, longtime Darden CEO Clarence Otis announced that he would be stepping down. As our company faces a leadership vacuum, Wall Street hedge funds are playing a much bigger role in deciding the future of this company. They called for the ouster of Otis and have lobbied for a potential scheme to sell off Darden's assets. These outside firms must consider the concerns and challenges facing the staff at their restaurants. These restaurants are not just assets to be sold off but are how 130,000 workers feed and care for their families.
Customers, shareholders, and fellow employees -- please join me in calling on Darden leadership and hedge fund stakeholders to meet with employees and hear our concerns. It's time we had a seat at the table when it comes to deciding the future of this company!
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/people/jeepersmedia/