Oxford Olive Garden caught in flag flap
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
Oct 11, 2011 | 29547 views |  0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marty Warren does not expect Olive Garden to change its policy prohibiting groups from hanging the U.S. flag in its restaurants.

But then, she does not expect her friends to ever dine at an Olive Garden again either.

“I can’t lie down and keep my mouth shut about this,” Warren said. “I’m not backing down and not going to be quiet.”

Warren, immediate past president of Oxford Golden K Kiwanis, said she and many of her fellow Kiwanians are upset after the Oxford Olive Garden would not let her group hang a U.S. flag during a meeting at the restaurant last week. The club was holding its annual changing of the guard banquet, in which new officers took control of the organization. Warren stepped down as president at the meeting, but stayed on as vice-president.

Warren said her organization had planned to hang up the U.S. flag so members there could say the pledge of allegiance at the beginning of the meeting. Many of the members there were veterans and were upset when they were told the flag would be unavailable, Warren said.

“My grandson was in Baghdad when we took Iraq,” Warren said. “This was just a real affront to those veterans who were at the banquet.”

Details of the incident have since gone viral, with angry comments spreading onto many Facebook pages, including Olive Garden’s Facebook presence. Warren said many Kiwanians and friends of hers have decided to no longer dine at Olive Garden because of the incident.

Warren said a manager at the restaurant told her Olive Garden had a corporate policy against allowing any group to hang a banner or flag in any Olive Garden without a private meeting area. The Oxford Olive Garden has no such meeting area.

In a Tuesday email to The Star, Olive Garden spokeswoman Heidi Schauer said Olive Garden does have a policy against allowing banners and flags in restaurants without private meeting areas.

“The Oxford Olive Garden does not have a private dining area,” Schauer said. “To be fair to everyone and avoid disrupting the dining experience for all other guests, they are unable to accommodate flags or banners of any type in the dining room.”

Schauer added that Olive Garden sympathized with the Kiwanis members and understood their anger.

“Like all Americans we have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for the American flag and everything it symbolizes,” she said. “In fact, we periodically provide American flag collar pins to our employees to wear while serving guests. We understand and appreciate the way some people have reacted to the situation in Oxford and we're very sorry if this decision has caused them any concern.”

Elliot Schreiber, head of the brand-reputation strategy firm, Brand and Reputation Management, LLC, said many corporations like Olive Garden have similar policies regarding flags and banners in their businesses.

“The decision comes under branding – the thinking is, let’s just not hurt ourselves by looking like we are taking sides,” Schreiber said. “If you say okay to one group, then you have to say okay to all groups and then you might have to allow someone to hang up something that might offend people.”

However, he noted that even a policy designed to prevent a controversy can become one itself.

“The problem is that anything can become a controversy if given the right circumstances,” he said.

Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.

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