Remembering a social crusader named Bill Darden

Restaurant Rewind: In the era of Jim Crow, the namesake of Darden Restaurants refused to segregate dining rooms, even in the Deep South of 1935. Here's how the industry pioneer made a difference.

Tipping has been villainized by organized labor as a vestige of slavery, an assertion that strains credibility. What makes the assertion even more difficult to accept is the background of the restaurant company that’s likely more dependent on tipping than any other employer in the business.

Bill Darden is well-known to any student of the business as the founder of Darden Restaurants and Red Lobster, the brand that made the company a full-service powerhouse. Yet few are likely aware of the role he played in combating racism, going back as far as 1935.

Darden’s refusal to segregate his dining rooms put him and his business at considerable risk. Yet he made color-blindness a plank of the company’s culture.

Join us as we look back in this week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind at the stance Darden took and how sharply it contrasted with the industry’s attitude of even just a few decades ago.

Hit “Play” to learn how one strong adherent to tipping was all about treating people equally, regardless of their skin color.

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Restaurants have a hot opportunity to improve their reputation as employers

Reality Check: New mandates for protecting workers from dangerous on-the-job heat are about to be dropped on restaurants and other employers. The industry could greatly help its labor plight by acting first.


Some McDonald's customers are doubling up on the discounts

The Bottom Line: In some markets, customers can get the fast-food chain's $5 value meal for $4. The situation illustrates a key rule in the restaurant business: Customers are savvy and will find loopholes.


Ignore the Red Lobster problem. Sale-leasebacks are not all that bad

The decade-old sale-leaseback at the seafood chain has raised questions about the practice. But experts say it remains a legitimate financing option for operators when done correctly.


More from our partners