Several dozen LCLD Fellows traveled to Orlando on February 7, 2015 for a corporate Learning Experience at Darden Restaurants, hosted by General Counsel Teresa Sebastian and her Legal department.

Darden is one of the largest full-service restaurant companies in the United States. It operates more than 1,500 restaurants, employs 150,000 people, and serves 320 million meals a year at flagship restaurants such as Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, and Yard House. (Last year Darden sold Red Lobster, its first and oldest restaurant chain.)

The Fellows learned that the concept of EDGE Service sets Darden apart from other restaurant corporations. EDGE is company shorthand for an attitude of extreme attentiveness to the human side of the restaurant business, consistently going above and beyond the call of duty to personalize the guest experience.

John Martin, president of The Capital Grille, cited this example: One of his servers overheard a dinner guest remark to another, “The only thing that would make this meal better would be to end it with a cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee.” Without telling them, the server rushed out to the nearest Dunkin Donuts and bought each guest a cup of coffee, which were served in Dunkin Donuts cups on a silver platter, alongside dessert.

In a session led by 2014 Fellow Dawn Rodda, the visitors learned about Darden’s pioneering approach to dispute resolution, in which employee volunteers sit on a panel that reviews company disputes.

One of Darden’s partner law firms, LCLD Member Cozen O’Connor, led the Fellows through a fascinating session on the role of implicit bias. The firm also sponsored the event dinner on Thursday night and happy hour at the Darden Training Bar on Friday evening.

The Fellows also received a valuable lesson in crisis management from Sebastian (at left, with colleagues from her staff). She reviewed the contested election of the company’s Board of Directors in 2014, which resulted in an entirely new board and enormous challenges posed to the Darden legal department.

As the dust settled, Teresa said, what mattered most was giving the new board the same sense of loyalty and personal commitment that Darden guests experience every day.

Whether it’s serving the board with strategic advice, or consistently serving long-time Olive Garden guests the best lasagna in town, “It takes time and intentional energy to develop relationships based on trust.”

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