Olive Garden bans American flag—then reverses decision

The ire of an Alabama patron has left Olive Garden (and its parent company) in hot water with customers.

An Olive Garden staff member refused to allow a customer carrying an American flag to enter its restaurant. The patron, 80-year-old Marti Warren, was bringing the flag and a Kiwanis Club banner to their awards banquet.

The Kiwanis members, many of whom are war veterans, recited the Pledge of Allegiance with their eyes closed while pretending the flag was there. The Kiwanis banner was prohibited as well.

Olive Garden is owned by Darden, which also owns the Red Lobster and Longhorn chains. The company’s first response was to cite its rules. It released a statement explaining that the Oxford, Ala., Olive Garden lacks a private dining area.

“To be fair to everyone and avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests, they’re unable to accommodate flags or banners of any type in the dining room,” according to the statement.

Warren said the denial was like a slap in the face. A number of people agreed with her and outraged tweets, Facebook comments and emails followed.

Then someone in corporate reversed the company stance, saying the issue was one of miscommunication and its policies were misunderstood. That’s when the bending-over-backwards routine began:

  • The vice president issued a personal apology to Warren.
  • The apology was posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page (in the comments section).
  • The vice president also plans to fly to Alabama to apologize to the Kiwanis Club members in person, according to the company.
  • Olive Garden contacted the media and explained that the issue was miscommunication between the corporate office and the restaurant’s staff. “Some of our staff were misinformed by our corporate office. As a company we take responsibility for that and we regret it. We take pride in how we communicate to our restaurants and we are correcting this so it doesn’t happen again.” (You can read the entire apology on their Facebook site.)

Readers, how would you have handled the situation?

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