For those of our readers who are enamored of the “all-you-can-eat” restaurant experience – you know who you are and, generally, the rest of us know too – a recent case may be of particular interest. (Darden Concepts, Inc. et al. v. Briad Restaurant Group, LLC et al.)
For the edification of those not familiar with “casual dining” restaurants, Darden and its co-plaintiff are the owners of the Olive Garden (723 “outlets” in the U.S.) and Red Lobster (666 “outlets”) restaurant chains. Briad is a franchisee, operating TGI Friday’s restaurants in 7 states. As anyone who lives on planet Earth or owns a television is undoubtedly aware, one of the featured items on the Olive Garden menu is the “Never Ending Pasta Bowl” (it’s actually rather good). Darden secured a federal trademark registration of this mark in 1999.
In 2010, Briad began offering an all-you-can-eat item in its restaurants, “Never Ending Shrimp.” Darden, apparently not of the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” school of thought, took umbrage at what it considered an infringement of its trademark and fired off a “cease and desist” letter to Briad.
Briad responded that it would “not proceed” with its “never ending” themed television advertising but “provided no commitment to halt other non-television uses of the ‘Never Ending Shrimp’ mark and/or to agree never to use the term ‘Never Ending’ in connection with a future mark or promotion.” This concession was not sufficiently mollifying to Darden, which filed suit against Briad, alleging trademark infringement, trademark dilution, unfair competition, and a host of related and equally nefarious offenses – a total of seven (yes, 7) causes of action.
In its complaint, Darden asserts that Briad’s action is particularly egregious because Briad has “full knowledge of Darden’s ownership of the Red Lobster restaurant chain, which regularly serves shrimp and periodically runs all-you-can-eat shrimp promotions.” This, in Darden’s view, “is likely to confuse, mislead and deceive consumers and the public that the Defendants’ TGI Friday’s restaurants, and TGI Friday’s restaurants nationwide, are affiliated, associated, or connected with Darden or its Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants.”
In our observation, individuals ordering all-you-can-eat meals are focused on maximizing food intake, to the exclusion of all else. They are most certainly NOT concerned about trademark issues or, for that matter, table manners. However, cases such as this point to another “never ending” opportunity – “never ending” litigation. Bon appétit to all the lawyers.