Boycotts

Olive Garden, Fake News, and the Rise of 'Conspicuous Non-Consumption'

The chain restaurant has been falsely accused of supporting Donald Trump. But truth may be no match for the online outrage mob.

|

It sucks to be Olive Garden right now. The fast-casual restaurant chain is busy fending off an online boycott campaign based on the mistaken notion that it and its parent company, Darden, are big supporters of Donald Trump and his bid to get reelected in 2020.

The origin of the fake news is a tweet, since deleted and disowned, by a California college professor who is a self-proclaimed member of #TheResistance but who claims she was hacked. "Olive Garden is funding Trump's re-election in 2020," read the original tweet, which appeared on Sunday, August 25, and amassed over 50,000 retweets in about 24 hours. "It would be terrible if you shared this and Olive Garden lost business." As of this writing, #BoycottOliveGarden is still flourishing on Twitter and the restaurant's official feed is busy responding to misinformation that is every bit as bottomless as its soup, salad, and breadsticks.

The Olive Garden story sits at the intersection of fake news and what might be called conspicuous non-consumption. As with the recent outrage over one of the major shareholders of Equinox gyms and SoulCycle holding a fundraiser for Donald Trump, opponents of the president have been calling for an absolute boycott. That Olive Garden and Darden, which also operates other chains such as Longhorn Steakhouse and The Daily Grille, doesn't actually support Trump is no small matter, but it may be one that really doesn't matter very much, at least to most consumers. There's no reason to believe that Equinox and SoulCycle will see any significant downturn, and it seems unlikely that Olive Garden's receipts will suffer, either.

But this episode underscores two realities that are somewhat at odds with one another. First is the basic fact that politically motivated consumer boycotts rarely achieve their goals of punishing a corporation via reduced sales or decreased shareholder value. When they are effective in changing corporate behavior, such as attacks in the 1990s on Nike for using child labor, it's because they use a company's image and professed ideals against itself. Second is the idea that virtually all economic activity these days is symbolic and thus open to political and ideological motivation. In almost every case, consumers have all sorts of options, meaning we can easily direct our dollars toward businesses that we think share our values. If we don't like Walmart for whatever reason, we can shop at Target instead. If we find Chick Fil A objectionable because its owners don't support marriage equality, we can go to Popeye's (whose owners apparently don't have a position on that issue). And on and on.

This is thus the golden age of corporate social responsibility, with an increasing number of companies devoting time and energy to more than their bottom lines (read Reason's 2005 debate among Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, and Cypress Semiconductor's T.J. Rodgers for a prescient take on the matter).

The flip side is that such intentional consumption is absolutely exhausting. Which is one more reason why ideologically motivated boycotts, especially when they are based on observably false premises, tend to wither and curdle on the plate, not unlike Olive Garden's fettuccine alfredo. Politicizing every purchase makes an intuitive sort of sense, but as with politicizing everything all the time, becomes so tedious it can cause a sort of nihilism that ultimately undermines our ability to make important distinctions in our lives.

NEXT: Joe Walsh Isn't Running on the Issues

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. That Olive Garden and Darden, which also operates other chains such as Longhorn Steakhouse and The Daily Grille, doesn’t actually support Trump

    Assumes facts not in evidence.

    All Darden said is that they don’t donate to presidential candidates. ANY candidates. It would be just as correct–i.e. wrong, to say that Olive Garden and Darden, which also operates other chains such as Longhorn Steakhouse and The Daily Grille, doesn’t actually support any of the Democrats running.

    Nick Gillespie. Journolism at it’s finest.

    1. I am making 10,000 Dollar at home own laptop .Just do work online 4 to 6 hour proparly . so i make my family happy and u can do

      …….. Read More

    2. Unless you take the verb “support” to mean what it clearly does in this context: to lend financial backing. In that sense it’s entirely correct to say they support neither Trump nor any Dem candidates.

      Azagoth. Reading comprehension at it’s (sic) finest.

  2. I say we boycott Reason until they return the comment preview function. WHO’S WITH ME?

    1. Dammit, if we had a preview function, that last comment wouldn’t have happened.

    2. i’m boycotting right now oh wait dammit

    3. Or better, an edit function

      1. The problem with an edit function is that someone posts something that is soundly refuted, then the original poster “edits” the post to agree with the refutation, and the responder ends up undeservedly looking like an ass. There is a preview function, except its actually called “proofreading what you wrote before you hit ‘post.'”

        1. I’m not sure you’ve made a compelling argument.

          1. For example, if Tony could edit out his idiocy, we wouldn’t know how stupid he really is.

            1. Tony is completely self-assured of his own brilliance. There would be no editing.

    4. Hey, don’t you know the comment preview function is a fascist tool?
      Where have you been?

  3. Twitter bans #Learn to code why doesn’t it ban #BoycottOliveGarden.

  4. It will be interesting to see how the “muh free markets muh private enterprise” folks react when a competitors start damaging rival businesses by inciting an SJW mob on social media.

    This Olive Garden case is a hint of things to come

    1. Yes, please bring back the preview function.

    2. A competitor pulling a stunt like that would likely find themselves sued very quickly.

      1. If you could catch them. Companies have gotten pretty good at socks. I imagine if we ever do find someone doing so, it will be long after its become common practice and someone just forgets what account they are on.

    3. So what government regulation would you propose to prevent a boycott on false pretenses? Mandatory dinners at Olive Garden for all citizens at least once a week>?

      1. Is government regulation the only thing you can think of?

      2. “Mandatory dinners at Olive Garden for all citizens at least once a week>?”

        +1, That’s a better campaign promise than any other Democratic Presidential candidate has come up with.

  5. by a California college professor who is a self-proclaimed member of #TheResistance

    This seems unlikely.

    1. A college professor? The “Resistance”?
      I’m pretty sure a college is the last place to find a #NeverTrump’r. Especially in reliably Republican California.

  6. Olive Garden is an anagram of I Love Danger.

    1. Good one – it also rearranges to say “evading role,” and they’re trying to evade the role of Trump donor. On the technical grounds that they don’t donate to such things.

      1. Also “veal redoing” and “veal eroding.”

        And “egad, liver, no!”

        1. I boycott Olive Garden because they don’t serve veal. Same goes for any Chinese restaurant that doesn’t serve pork.

          1. I “boycott” Olive Garden because they are offensive to my people. Chicken Tortolutti is not a real thing. Veal is rather difficult to work with and prepare properly, so to me, their not serving veal would be a plus if I ever went there

            1. I hear you paesan. What the heck is a chicken tortolutti?

  7. Darden could have also mentioned that they’re bringing back their unlimited pasta for $100 deal.

  8. Chik-fil-a is so yesterday.

    I want a Popeyes chicken sandwich if you can get one.

    1. Popeyes is pro-Trump.

  9. I’m gonna boycott them because their food isn’t very good. Unless someone offers to buy me dinner at Olive Garden.

    1. I will! But there will be…expectations involved.

      1. Let you eat all the free breadsticks?

        1. Nice euphemism but it isnt free.

  10. Lots of people go to chick fil a because they are baptist. Seems fair that people would choose not to go there for the same reason.

    1. Lots of people go to Chick-Fil-A because the food is good and the service is usually better than any other fast food.

      1. You must not live near an In-N-Out. Their service is at least as good, if not better.

  11. I have only been to an Olive Garden a few times, mostly because I love Italian food and can cook so I prefer making my own, but I thought it was decent enough and I don’t get all the hate. (I also like Arby’s and Taco Bell and I don’t get all the hate they get, either. Except that I avoid Arby’s because their food is just too damn expensive.) As far as I know, most fast casual places prepare a limited amount of their menu fresh, the rest is a frozen product heated in a microwave. They all do it. But it’s not like they’re opening a can of Chef Boyardee, it’s good quality frozen food. If you’re dropping 75 bucks on dinner, sure, you bought the right to complain, but you ain’t getting an actual chef preparing a made-from-scratch meal using the finest hand-selected ingredients for $16.95 so shut up and eat your TV dinner.

    1. Except that I avoid Arby’s because their food is just too damn expensive.

      Mister Medicaid-Monocle.

    2. Arby’s has gotten pretty good lately, if buy the more expensive items.

    3. As an Italophile….don’t get me going…..on the atrocities I see sometimes.

      But I agree, it’s not that bad. Some people are way too critical for its own sake.

    4. Arby’s always has coupons in those flyers that come in the mail with things like 5 regulars for $6 (buy up to 20). And they have numerous promotions like the 2 for $6 Gyros. I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything at Arby’s at the normal menu price. In places where there’s a dearth of good Greek food, the Arby’s gyros are actually pretty passable. But that’s coming from someone who lives on a gravel road that’s off another gravel road that’s off a narrow two-lane but paved road and then it’s 11 miles to the nearest town on a “scenic highway”. Said town has 2 stoplights, but remarkably has an Arby’s, BK, Bojangles, Hardees, and a spanking new Zaxby’s all in the same strip. We only get internet by having installed a microwave tower that pings off the watertower in town, so getting a passable gyro at Arby’s with “only” a 15 minute drive each way is a bit of a wonder.

  12. The flip side is that such intentional consumption is absolutely exhausting.

    That’s why I stop after the salad and breadsticks.

  13. “If we find Chick Fil A objectionable because its owners don’t support marriage equality, we can go to Popeye’s (whose owners apparently don’t have a position on that issue).”

    Are you sure? Popeye and Brutus sure seem obsessed with each other.

  14. Isn’t Gillette seeing a downturn in sales after there ad touting Toxic Masculinity? I’m wondering how much boycotts don’t work, and how much the people that tend to make a big deal about boycotting companies aren’t actually people who’d ever buy from the company in the first place. Think Walmart, most people who decry the evils of walmart make far too much money to ever be caught dead in one anyways, so their outcry is meaningless to Walmart’s sales.

    1. The “evil of Walmart” for progs is that immigrants and minorities shop there.

      1. And Walmart raises their standard of living. Damn them.

    2. I stopped buying Gillette razors after that “ad” came out. Unfortunately, their competitors’ razors suck (Bic is a French company, after all) and were tearing up my face, so I went back. I don’t feel good about it though. That was one of the most obnoxious “ads” ever.

      1. I stopped buying Gillette. Fuck them.

        Not crazy about Shtick as I was accustomed to Gillette but they want to play stupid idiotic woke politics, I got my principles too. The morons put that foul mouthed, remedial, insufferable, perpetually angry, left-wing fake feminist, ANA KASPARIAN in the ad.

        I also just now use an old fashioned blade.

        1. Same with Nike. Not that I bought their stuff, but their Kaepernick campaign permanently assured I don’t need to consider them when I’m considering a purchase. Way too many options anyway as it is.

          That’s the thing I don’t get with these companies. Competition is fierce. Why would they risk alienating some customers for this fake-SJW nonsense?

      2. I get mine at Walmart now. Fuck Gillette.

    3. “Isn’t Gillette seeing a downturn in sales after there ad touting Toxic Masculinity? ”

      That’s less a boycott than the idiots attacked their customers in a declining market.

    4. They are claiming it’s competition and not because of their ads. Basically putting their heads in the sand that they drive large numbers of their customer to the competition. I’ve tried Harry’s and Schick Hydro since switching. Considering going old-school safety razor, to, and maybe even an old fashioned straight razor and strop.

  15. I’m starting to find a sense of beauty in all of this. Thanks to the platform’s immunity to liability due to section 230 us humans have learned to work with the tools we have available. Their negligence to verify the identities of all posters results in people being able to claim whatever the hell they want and rely on the emotions of others to amplify the signal.
    If just 10 people on this comment section were to work together we could get Burger King to make a statement that the Whopper isn’t horsemeat and buy the stock when it drops. This is both sad and beautiful at the same time…I
    Remove 230.

  16. I for one am sick to f’ing death of Leftist fascists trying to destroy anything and anyone whom they simply disagree with.

    It almost makes me wish the Right WAS the evil bastards they claim they are, and they just rounded them up and threw away the key.

    But it does not in the end, because we are the sane ones.

    1. If CDA 230 gets removed then the left or anyone will have a hard time destroying something simply because they disagree with it. Don’t forget that the right can do this too. An extremely small minority now has the ability to slander and defame anything they want and face no consequence. This will lead to an even madder society if not stopped.
      As it now stands I can use their platforms, instantly have my message shared with many people, and write horrible things about you not based on any truth. I can #metoo you and I don’t even know who you are. Remember Susan? You probably don’t because I just made her up, but she’s got a bone to pick with you and everyone is gonna know. Then once it is mentioned enough it will come up in searches under your name.
      Remove section 230.

      1. “If CDA 230 gets removed then the left or anyone will have a hard time destroying something simply because they disagree with it.”

        Not really. CDA 230 allows sites to moderate comments without incurring liability as a publisher. In its absence, sites could simply not moderate comments at all and avoid liability that way. Companies are more likely to do that, or simply ban comments all together, rather than hire enough people to review comments before they post.

        1. “Companies are more likely to do that, or simply ban comments all together,”

          Well it seems unlikely that twitter can simply ban comments…

        2. CDA 230 removes any liability the site has for 3rd party content. It means they are responsible for whatever someone puts on their site. That means if someone livestreams a mass murder they can get sued. That means if someone uses their platform for calls to violence then they can get sued.
          They would be an idiot to let anyone post anything without it being reviewed first.
          They would remove the post button since they don’t have the manpower to moderate all content.
          Removing section 230 solves almost all problems we face online. Reason does not need a comments section. You can create your own website that you’re liable for if you want to comment on Reason stories. Free speech allows you to do that.

  17. you could just boycott them for selling bland food

  18. So Popeye’s Chicken doesn’t have a position on marriage equality? Does Olive Garden?

    For the record, my preferred position is cowgirl as well as reverse cowgirl.

  19. So if Trump tweets out how much he loves reading the New York Times and the Washington Post, the left will get up in arms and boycott them?
    Wait. What kind of mushrooms were in that pasta?

  20. I wonder when we’ll reach the state where a corporation will draw the ire of the SJW mob for not having a political position.

    I figure it won’t be long. Heck, they already did it to Taylor Swift, and it looks like she got the message.

  21. “The origin of the fake news is a tweet, since deleted and disowned, by a California college professor who is a self-proclaimed member of #TheResistance but who claims she was hacked.”

    Yeah, sure, someone hacked your account to post that. Own it, you ignorant twit.

  22. Activist professors who engage in this idiocy should learn to code.

    Like that other buffoon who lost his job stating he was Antifa.

    Low grade, faux intellects are teaching the kids.

  23. I don’t give two shits and flying fuck if Olive Garden supported Trump or not.
    They have great food there, and great food trumps politics.

  24. So how is that woke Gillette advertising campaign working out for them?

    $8 billion loss? Must not SJWing hard enough.

Please to post comments