Darden—the parent company of Olive Garden, Yard House, LongHorn Steakhouse, and other franchises—has over 1,500 franchise locations, employs 150,000 people, and serves more than 320 million meals per year. It’s the largest sit-down restaurant company in the world. With incredible brand recognition comes incredible power: The company can move the restaurant industry in a more sustainable direction by improving the way it treats workers and procures food.
That’s why Green America, in coalition with 15 allied organizations, has launched the Good Food Now campaign, to demand that Darden adopt better practices. The Good Food Now campaign calls for Darden to improve its labor practices and source 20 percent of its purchases under environmental, health, labor, and animal-welfare criteria aligned with the Good Food Purchasing Policy created by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. For example, the campaign asks Darden to build its menus around local and regional food. At present, the chain does not have a local food policy. Consequently, since 70 percent of America’s fruit and nuts and 55 percent of its vegetables come from California, the almonds that top a salad at an Olive Garden in New York may have traveled 3,000 miles to end up on that plate.
“By purchasing food that’s traveled across the continent, restaurants are increasing the food’s environmental and climate impact,” says Anna Meyer, food campaigns manager at Green America. “If Darden committed to local and organic purchasing, it could decrease its carbon footprint and boost local economies.”
Darden also needs to improve its treatment of workers. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 an hour. Though Darden restaurants meet the federal minimum, that doesn’t mean its workers earn enough to make ends meet. Nationally, the median annual income for tipped workers is under $15,000, which puts them just above the federal poverty line and below what a person making the $7.25 federal minimum wage for hourly work would earn.
Plus, some 60 percent of Darden’s employees are part-time. Chain restaurants often aim to keep their staff at part-time to avoid a legal obligation to provide health insurance, sick leave, and other essential benefits.
“It’s time for Darden restaurants and other big chains to step it up,” says Meyer. “They have the power to effect change through buying local and organic food and ending worker exploitation.”
Tell Darden to be more accountable to workers and the planet: Take action at Good-food-now.com.