Statesboro resident Vince Mercaldo, general manager of the Olive Garden in Statesboro, was recently presented with Darden Restaurants' top honor - the Joe R. Lee Diamond Club Award, named after the company's retired chairman and CEO.
Now in its 14th year, the award is presented annually to general managers throughout North America who demonstrate outstanding results by delighting guests with a genuine Italian dining experience and achieve top financial performance in the company's previous fiscal year.
This year, Mercaldo joins an elite group of 41 general managers selected from the more than 750 Olive Garden restaurants in North America.
"This award really belongs to our staff in great part," Mercaldo said. "They are the ones that are serving our customers, and it is that level of service that stands out. It is what keeps customers coming back, again and again. The results of our guest satisfaction surveys were the second highest in the company."
Mercaldo said when the restaurant opened in March 2010, more than 1,900 employment applications were submitted.
"We ultimately hired 160 people out of all of the applications that we received," he said. "We were able to assemble a great staff that has remained in tact for the most part. We are just now training our second class of servers since opening. We are very proud of our staff, the dedication that they have, and the job that they do. They are exceptional."
Mercaldo's dedication to the restaurant and his staff is recognized at the highest levels within Olive Garden.
"Vince is a passionate leader who values everyone as family and friends. He is a great role model for his team," said John Caron, president of Olive Garden. "As a result, he ensures the Statesboro restaurant is committed to 100 percent guest delight and to making meaningful connections with guests and others in the local community."
Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 750 restaurants, more than 88,000 employees and $3.3 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI), the world's largest company-owned and operated full-service restaurant company.
Kaysie Smith has been working as a bartender at the Statesboro Olive Garden since the restaurant opened. The thought of working for a Darden restaurant enticed Smith to apply for the job.
"Darden is the best that you can work for in this industry," she said. "It has a very good reputation, and they offer wonderful benefits. This is definitely a place where you could work and have a nice career. In this particular restaurant, the management is wonderful and the atmosphere is easy. We also have a lot of customers that have become regulars and friends. It's just a nice place to work."
Mercaldo said customers come to the Statesboro restaurant with very high expectations.
"You really can't have a bad day," he said. "We want to give wonderful service every single day. We are ecstatic to be here, and to be part of this community. We want to give back to the community that has been so supportive of us."
For the second quarter of this year, the Olive Garden reported the highest gross sales of the 44 restaurants that serve alcohol totaling $755,647. LongHorn Steakhouse reported sales of $746,910. Restaurants are required by the city to report their gross sales per the city's alcohol ordinance.
Darden Restaurants, Inc. owns and operates more than 1,800 restaurants that generate more than $7 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, and employing approximately 180,000 people, Darden became the first full-service restaurant company ever to be named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list in 2011. Darden operates the following restaurant brands - Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.