Small Chairs and the Olive Garden Diet of Discomfort


Sometime during the late 1980s — no one can pinpoint the exact date — Ron Magruder, the president of the thriving Olive Garden chain of Italian restaurants, received a telephone call from a dissatisfied customer. The call had been patched all the way up to Magruder because it was so……different. The caller, named, Larry, wasn’t complaining about the food or the service or the prices. Instead Larry was upset that he could no longer fit into any of the chairs in his local Olive Garden.

“I had to wait more than an hour and half to get a table,” Larry told Magruder. “But then I found that there wasn’t a single booth or chair where I could sit comfortably.”

Magruder, a heavyset man easily moved to enthusiasm, was sympathetic to Larry’s plaint. And, as president, he could do something about it. He had his staff contact the company that manufactured the chairs for the chain and order a thousand large sized chairs. He then had these distributed, three each, to every Olive Garden restaurant in the nation. It was, as Magruder later told the eminent restaurant business journalist Charles Bernstein, a perfect example of his management philosophy: “We’re going to go the extra mile for any customer, no matter what the situation.”

………the chapter “World Without Boundaries” ends with the conclusion of this story.

About after two months after he first heard from Larry, the customer who had complained about how small all the chairs were in his local Olive Garden restaurant, Ron Magruder, the chain’s president, received another call. It was Larry again. He was calling in response to a follow up query from one of Magruder’s staff. The staff had been busily making sure that all of the chain’s restaurants now had at least three chairs that could accommodate the more amply endowed and had wanted Larry to report what he thought of their efforts.

Well, he was happier now. Indeed, Larry’s message was entirely conciliatory — even thankful. But it wasn’t because of the bigger chairs. It was because of the old small chairs. Largely because of them, Larry explained, he had been spurred to finally confront the extent of his weight problem. Why, in the seven weeks since he had spoken to Magruder, he had lost almost fifty pounds.

The tight little chair — that had been what Larry needed after all.

What a “Gift of the Magi” kind of story!

From a design perspective, the role of small and big chairs in supporting American eating habits are worth noting and from a personal perspective, the story made me change out of my “fat jeans” and into my uncomfortable jeans as incentive to loose those pounds gained over winter. I wonder if this new diet of uncomfortable snug clothing (or chairs) will work? It did for Larry.

The story comes from Fat Land (2003) by Greg Critser.



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