You don’t have to tell long-time Olive Garden Bartender Michelle Labadie that team members are valued for providing a pipeline for great ideas. One of her ideas for improving bar execution has come to life before her eyes — and the eyes of every Olive Garden bartender — with more user-friendly technology featuring better organized beverage menu item keys.
“This is especially helpful for new bartenders or less common cocktails,” Michelle said. “I’m very excited about it.”
Michelle and dozens of team members and managers from across the country answered Olive Garden’s recent call to be part of a beverage task force and submit ideas to simplify wine and liquor operations. More than 100 impressive suggestions poured in and were reviewed by bartenders and managers who decided which ideas to implement.
“Ideas just started popping into my head,” said Michelle, who has worked at the Olive Garden restaurant in Bradenton, FL, for 18 years. The brand was so impressed by her ideas that leaders invited her to visit Darden’s Restaurant Support Center in Orlando, FL, in June to meet with beverage teams.
Michelle toured the RSC, its test kitchens and the bar training area as well as the computer lab where engineers build, test and continually modify the point of sales system to help bartenders and servers easily enter orders from guests. “They were picking my brain,” she said. “I’ve been amazed at the compliments and the warm reception I’ve gotten here. Olive Garden really listens to its team members and the feedback they get. It makes us feel valued.”
“It was very motivating to see an 18-year team member so excited about her work,” said Robyn Albert, director of Beverage Strategy for Olive Garden. “It’s inspiring to know that there are team members like Michelle out there who love what they do and are always thinking about ways to improve. It was a pleasure to share with her what the brand is working on.”
Michelle, who said she loves meeting people in her job, said she hopes to become a manager in a few years. “I want to wait until my son has graduated from high school so I don’t miss anything,” she said. “He’s my only child, and I want to make sure I’m there. I really like the flexible schedules so I can attend his basketball games and cross-country events. The restaurant is very accommodating, and that really helps with family life.”
Michelle encourages others to speak up. “There’s no such thing as a bad idea. There is always something to be learned from someone who is doing a job every day.”