If the Olive Garden in Baxter looks a little different to you, it's not just that it's new to the lakes area.
The much-anticipated restaurant addition to the lakes area isn't the same Olive Garden. The chain changed the look for its new restaurants creating a rustic stone exterior and using a farmhouse look with exposed wooden beams and character of a farmhouse in Tuscany, Italy as a model.
"This is how they’ll all be from now on," said Olive Garden General Manager Miranda Ahlers. "We’re one of the newer ones to have the exact layout we have."
Last week at the restaurant in Baxter, time was spent on staff training. (About 150 people were hired for the restaurant) and Friday servers invited family members and friends to check out the offerings and provide a real run-through for services. Ahlers has been with Olive Garden for more than seven years and made the move to the Brainerd lakes area from Wisconsin.
With changes in the building design, Ahlers said the food will be the same with the traditional entrees. The Baxter restaurant, which seats 246, is a little smaller than some but pretty typical, she said. This is Ahlers' first restaurant to manage for the chain.
"It’s been fabulous," she said. "Things have gone much more smoothly than I could ever imagine."
Inside the bar area is separate from the rest of the dining. Full service dining is available at the bar. Ahlers said the restaurant can respond to any size of group. The parking lot has dedicated parking for to-go orders. The restaurant doesn't take reservations, at least that continues to be the policy now.
As for opening day. Every new restaurant in the lakes area typically has a strong showing after it opens its doors as people check out the latest offering.
"We’re expecting organized chaos," Ahlers said.
Olive Garden has been involved in a year-long overhaul, which includes highlighting lower-calorie meals and those which are expected to appeal to folks on a budget.
And a new wrinkle for Olive Garden is a "Dinner today, Dinner Tomorrow"as customers get a meal at the restaurant and take a second meal home with them with instructions on how to heat it for the next day. Guests may pick from five entrees for $12.95 for the take-home meals. The promotion across the chain starts Monday.
Among other seasonal food, Olive Garden has a winter soup on hand now in its chicken and potato Florentine.
Ahlers said a couple is typically able to get a meal soup, salad, dinner meal with a drink for about $30 to $40.
Another change for Olive Garden comes with its signature wines, now Porta Vita created from the Cavit Winery in northern Italy exclusively for the restaurant. The wines come in a white, blush and red. Olive Garden notes it has been influenced by the popularity of moscato varieties.
The changes are all part of Olive Garden's recent efforts to update its image, complete with new commercials and ad campaign slogan of "Go Olive Garden." The company reported the menu changes are designed to make it easier for guests who are looking for lighter menu options less than 575 calories with entrees such as lasagna primavera with grilled chicken, seafood Brodetto, herb-grilled salmon, linguine alla marinara, Venetian apricot chicken.
Olive Garden is still looking to hire employees and is taking applications online.
For more information on the restaurant, check out the most recent Biz Buzz column at http://brainerddispatch.com/business/2012-10-05/biz-buzz-olive-garden-op...