Olive Garden is known for its Italian cuisine with a touch of American. Known for its appetizers like Lasagna Frittata, heaping pile of pasta and the popular unlimited breadsticks, it has served people through about 800 restaurants since 2013, globally. Established as a unit of General Mills in 1982, Orlando, the food chain has come a long way since then. Even though it is not an authentic Italian restaurant, people have embraced it for its casual dining experience. When we think of Oliver Garden, it is not restricted to unlimited food items on the menu, be it breadsticks, soup or salad. It is much more than that. Like other food chains making a place for themselves in the food business in America, it has become a part of the culture. The food and the attractive prices might be bringing back customers along with new faces to the restaurant table, but it the service and the urgency created by the restaurant chain to keep itself significant for people of different generations to enjoy and hang out in. The globalization due to successful business decisions made by food chains have cemented their legacy and embedded their names within American culture and as a result, they have become the face of the casual dining experience in the States. Oliver Garden is no exception.
So grab your chicken Alfredo and hold on to those breadsticks as we jump into the 10 untold truths about Olive Garden.
10. Big dreams, big goals
Some restaurants start solo and eventually transform into chains, depending on their popularity. This is not the case with Olive Garden. General Mills wanted to invade the restaurant business with the intent of expanding Olive Garden into a chain from the get-go. As soon as it made a base in Orlando, Florida, more chains cropped up soon after its introduction in the restaurant scene in America.
Within the span of a decade, the restaurant chain established itself in about 100 locations. The Italian themed restaurant as of 2018 is still sailing smoothly and has integrated itself well into the casual American dining experience since its infancy. In 2010, it garnered $3 billion in sales and it just doesn’t end there. With an estimate of 800 locations globally, it’s going nowhere and is sticking to its recently changed slogan “We’re all family here.” After all, it’s a family that serves unlimited soup, salads and breadsticks combo and we should not disappoint and accept what they have to offer. So let’s make the most of it spoil ourselves in unlimited pasta and breadsticks till stocks last.
9. Unlimited breadsticks, delicious or a menace?
Speaking of unlimited breadsticks, it has been calculated that per year, the restaurant chain has been known for serving 675 million breadsticks thanks to the unlimited offering. It comes down to 3 breadsticks per customer. Although the abundance of breadsticks attracts potential customers, not many are a fan of this tactic by the food chain as people have expressed the quality of the product as being not good enough. It’s been claimed that breadsticks become stale in a short period of time, because of large quantities being available. Also, servers at the chains have mentioned the refill process to be hectic because of the unlimited nature. On top of that, as prices are cheap on the menu, good tips don’t come easy for the servers. So next time you visit an Olive Garden, make sure that with the unlimited soup, salad and bread, you leave a decent tip behind as you head out.
8. The Italian connection?
With its marketing endeavors of being the place to have a ‘taste’ of Italy, it is in fact not what it claims to be. In 2011, the restaurant confessed that they took some ideas from Italian chefs, but some of the dishes present in their menus were non-existent in cookbooks and Italian restaurants. The Americanization of dishes is probably done so as to serve the average American and the Italian connection that comes with the marketing ideology of the chain attracts customers. The ‘exotic’ Italian dishes as advertised by Olive Garden are only found at one of the chains. According to a public policy poll, 39 percent of Americans are under the impression that it truly is the place to experience authentic Italian cuisines. When you order Pastachetti or a Soffatelli, next time you pay a visit, make sure you brush up your skills about what authentic Italian food truly is. But hey as long as the restaurant keeps serving Alfredo over Fettucine pasta, whatever floats their boat, we are down to hang out more at the Garden.
7. The case of the Culinary Institute
Although the restaurant may not have authentic Italian cuisines to satisfy people looking for something fanciful and exotic, it does have an institute residing within Tuscany, Italy. Talk about the Italian connection. Located in 11th-century hamlet of Riserva di Fizzano, in Chianti, Tuscany, it sure sounds like the ideal destination for any chef to get training and touring at the same time. But just as mirages, not all are an oasis and palm trees. It was made to believe that it is some sort of a cooking school to prepare Olive Garden chefs. An anonymous Reddit claiming to be one of the attendees at the institute mentioned how it was nothing more than a hotel that catered to Olive Garden chefs and managers during offseason. She also added that most of the time is spent by employees sightseeing and that little to no attention is given to actual training for chefs. Furthermore, the place is not even owned by Olive Garden, but by a local wine label. Speaking of Chianti, the restaurant design is inspired by the farmhouses in the town and the stone layout screams of Italian architecture.
Now even though it may or may not seem to be an institute to gain Italian cuisine wisdom as some people claim, the trip sure is an excuse to venture off into Italian sunsets and witness the sights and sounds that the land of the Mona Lisa has to offer. So next time you feeling the Italian summer and looking for work, brush up your resume and join the ‘family’ with a trip to Europe on the company dime.
6. The Times Square Garden
In the city that never sleeps within Times Square is an Olive Garden chain that is considered by many as the most expensive chain restaurant out there. With Times Square being one of the world’s most visit tourist attracts and the commercial intersection having an iconic aura about it over the years, thanks to movie settings and books, it sounds as the most ideal place for to occupy a space within. During New Year’s Eve as we all know, people gather to celebrate the countdown and cashing in on that, the restaurant organizes a big party to jump on the celebration train as well. Offering $400 per person, the proposition comes with free alcohol. It doesn’t just end there. There is a DJ and some dance floors thrown in to get yourself shaking all night long and set the mood for the incoming New Year.
According to people working at the branch, the management of the place is a task in itself as its more of a nightmare when you’re running out of breadsticks rather than the notion of having too much Alfredo sauce in the pasta.
The place may sound pricey and ridiculous for some, there are other restaurant chains as well, cashing in on the Olive garden trend. So how are you planning your next New Year’s Eve in Times Square? Are you going to burn your wallet or not care at all and go in for the free booze?
5. The Garden Lobster combo
Isn’t two better than one? At least that’s what we all want when we are down for a good pizza. Now that’s what Darden Inc. was thinking in 2011 when they decided to combine their restaurants Red Lobster and Olive Garden together. Thus six combination restaurants were born. When you think about the possibilities of food diversity on your plate because of the combination, finding a lobster alongside some exquisite pasta and unlimited breadsticks would be a dream come true. At least that’s what an offspring would look like when merging both restaurants together. But that wasn’t the case with this one. Even though both restaurants were now together under the same roof, both had separate entrances, menus and dining spaces, except for the kitchen area, which remained the same.
Looking from a sound business strategy viewpoint, making such a move sounds profitable and the expenses are cut down as a result. That’s what Darden Inc. had in mind while setting up combination restaurants. Unlike successful mash-ups like KFC and Taco Bell or Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins, the fate of the Garden Lobster was sealed unfortunately as the weird mash-up apparently wasn’t something people agreed with, unlike Darden. So back in 2014, Darden Inc. decided to sell Red Lobster. This led to the closing of some restaurant hybrids or the remodeling of some into Olive Garden chains. From a sound perspective, it does make sense as the combination seemed forced for the sake of generating profits and cutting down on costs. Apart from that, the only thing common between seafood and Italian cuisine was the company and that wasn’t enough to make this tactic popular enough. Guess we are not expecting unlimited lobster options with soup and breadsticks anytime soon after all. Ahh well.
4. Rise of the millennials
Over the years technology and trends have been rapidly changing, so is the taste of the millennials. Many might consider them the downfall of the chain restaurant business. Gene Lee, the CEO of Darden Restaurants has a much more optimistic view about it. According to an article on Business Insider he is quoted as saying that millennials are still coming to chain restaurants and that 30 percent of them comprise of the guests coming to Darden restaurants. If we look at statistics, 24 percent of the millennials occupy the US population and the younger generation visiting these diners are coming there for a good reason. According to Lee, that reason is Darden’s ability to offer food items on the menu that the millennials are interested in and that too with an attractive price tag to it. Observing the employees at Darden restaurant chains, one can see that the staff contains mostly of young people and that works for the chain that is trying to keep up with the times.
The encouragement to change itself and evolve, Darden Inc. has already seen favorable growth in sales in both the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse recently. In a competitive business environment, where TGI Fridays and Wild Buffalo Wings exist and are too trying to adopt current trends to keep up, Olive Garden has been seeing better sales. This speaks of the company’s tendency to take risks when it comes to thriving well and hitting the mark with its customers. It doesn’t just end there. Their chains like Olive Garden, Yard House, LongHorn Steakhouse and Season 52 have occupied a space on Facebook and act as job oriented pages for hiring. This makes sense as we do live in a digital age after all and it would be hard to imagine millennials looking up print classifieds for work. We can see glimpses of upgrades when it comes to Kale, a popular vegetable thanks to Beyonce sweatshirt, thrown in the Zuppa Toscana soup and Tapas, which are small plates at the Olive Garden to name a few.
Now how’s that for an incentive to join the ‘family’ and order the delicious Chicken Alfredo next time. Go Garden!
3. Unlimited pass and the route to black market
One of the offerings that the Olive Garden has up its sleeve is the unlimited pass for $100. You would think people already go crazy for the unlimited soup and breadsticks, wait for it. In 2014, they showcased a promotion for the all you can eat pasta pass with which comes unlimited pasta, soup and salad. The pass sold out like hot cakes and the unlucky ones who couldn’t get hold of one got their dreams of having unlimited pasta shattered. All was not lost as eBay came to the rescue (kind of), but with a catch. The passes available on the website were being sold at ridiculous prices, costing upto $300 and most of them were fake. This is not an unforeseen phenomena as similar cases have happened before with other items as well. Only recently in the videogame realm, PlayStation decided to do a limited run of the ultra-rare 20th anniversary addition PlayStation 4 for the price of $ 399. But as soon as it landed in the market, it sold out immediately and online shopping sites like Amazon and eBay started offering it for prices as high as $2000.
Better hold on to your passes before using them next time folks.
2. La dolce vita
Are you saving up on cash and working overtime to catch the next plane to Italy for the summer? Hold your horses. Besides many of its attractive market tactics like the unlimited pasta pass, Olive Garden also lets you a chance to win a trip to Italy to get the full Italian adventure experience, filled with wine and culture. The chain sends lucky winners on an eight-day guided trip to witness the sights, sounds, tastes and a visit to the culinary institute of Tuscany’s Master Chefs. The pasta passport prize for the trip also covers hotel, transportation, airfares and three meals per day. In case you’re craving for the unlimited pasta, never fear. The trip winner also gets that along with the perks of the trip. The people indulge in daily activities and tread through Siena, Roma, Vatican City, Florence, Assisi and Pisa. In April 2018, 50 customers got the chance to hop on the plane and get the full Olive Garden experience. Mary Kate Rosack, director of Marketing told Business Insider that they wanted to capitalize on their customers’ craze for the never-ending pasta bowl and pasta pass.
If the selling out of 21,000 pasta passes in 2016 in one second wasn’t self-validating enough, Olive Garden decided to release 22,000, along with an extra 50 pasta passports.
This is an enticing way to be relevant and motivate customers to take part in the various offers Olive Garden has at its disposal. Judging by Olive Garden’s repertoire of Italian indulgences, exposure to the Tuscan fields and the ambiance of Italian structures and culture, soaked in history and intrigue seems more plausible than ever before.
Italian-themed American cuisines and a trip to Italy packs a punch no one can resist. So keep an eye out when this is offered next time, because you never know when it might fall victim to eBay’s digital realms.
1. Celebrity hotspot and food critic survivor
Believe or not, Olive Garden has seen its fair share of celebrity outings. From Selena Gomez to Katy Perry, it has been a popular place among celebrities. Jimmy Fallon has also had a brush with Olive Garden. In 2012, Olive Garden decided to change their long used slogan, “When you’re here you’re family.” Fallon made the most of the opportunity and through his team decided to get in touch with Darden in hopes of acquiring the tagline for his own purpose, which he did eventually. The president of Olive Garden Dave George came on the show to sign the rights to the tagline. Along with being the happening place for A-list Hollywood celebs, Olive Garden also faced a kiss of the North Dakota food critic, Marilyn Hagerty. The reporter for the Grand Forks Herald posted a positive review, praising one of the locations. She mentioned the place being beautiful and large, functioning in Grand Forks. She loved the Chicken Alfredo and the Parmesan Cheese. Because of her review, many food personalities decided to visit the place. This was the start of a beautiful friendship between Hagerty and the Olive Garden as she returned again to review the food.
Not even a food critic can last that long and not get tempted by those delightful breadstick sandwiches and Chicken Alfredo. As they say, the way to a food critics’ heart is through their stomach. The power of the Garden triumphs yet again.