25 Things to Know Before Dining at Olive Garden

Olive Garden restaurant sign dec7

Our family just dined at Olive Garden. It was a great evening out.  Our kids loved the breadsticks and pasta.  I enjoyed the salad and spaghetti bolognese.

What I couldn’t get over was the size of the Olive Garden we visited in Bellingham.  The place was huge and packed.  Fortunately, we landed a nice large round table for the 6 of us (after waiting 30 minutes).  All-in-all, a great night out.  Service was exceptional and you can’t beat the prices.

Being a fan of this place I thought it would be fun to dig in and do some research to uncover some key facts and info about dining there.  Here goes…

1. Jimmy Fallon bought the rights to their slogan.

He’s such a fan that when he heard they were retiring their slogan, “When you’re here, you’re family,” he knew he had to have it. So, he asked them if he could buy it.

You know how it goes in Hollywood! What Jimmy Fallon wants, Jimmy Fallon gets.

2. Join their birthday club and get a free present.

Actually, take advantage of all their rewards offers. They’ll send you free coupons for your birthday and other special occasions.

They are marketing geniuses and have been proving it for years. They collect information and capitalize on it. It’s a great thing if you are the one reaping all of the rewards!

You will get a lot more than free breadsticks on your birthday at Olive Garden.

3. Their Twitter account gives dating advice… what?

You never know where you’re going to get the best advice. Or, where you will need it. Well, if you are on a questionable date, you can use Olive Garden’s Twitter account for advice on how to handle it.

Just use #AskAlfredo and send your question to @olivegarden while you’re pretending to check an important message on your phone.

4. You can make Olive Garden at home.

A lot of restaurants seem to be doing this. You’d think that they wouldn’t want their customers to know how to make their food, right? Well, maybe not.

Maybe, they want you to try to make their food and fail leaving you craving the real thing.

Or, they may want you to know just how hard it is to make a perfect Alfredo sauce or minestrone soup.

Whatever their reasoning, giving away their recipes doesn’t seem to have slowed them down.

5. Their Italian dressing isn’t Italian.

As amazing as it tastes, you wouldn’t find any salad dressing like it in Italy. While they lose points for authenticity, they probably win them all back for taste.

It is an amazing salad dressing.

And, they are generous with sharing their recipe. Although, it never seems to be quite as tasty when I make it at home.

6. They sell over 700 million breadsticks every year!

How can a perfectly crusted miniature loaf of warm Italian bread slathered in velvety-rich butter and dusted with mouthwatering garlic be so appealing? Beats me! But, apparently, 700 million people think so. Well, if they only had one, that is.

So, maybe they each had three. That’s still over roughly 233 million people eating breadsticks at Olive Garden every single year. That’s a lot of breadsticks and a lot of happy customers!

It’s pretty amazing how something so simple can have it own cult-like following. If you don’t believe me, you’ve never been in an Olive Garden when they temporarily run out of breadsticks. Madness!

7. Mozzarella sticks aren’t Italian.

They’re actually French.

While the origin of mozzarella cheese is disputed between the French and the Italian, it was definitely the French who coated the cheese with breadcrumbs and fried it creating this little piece of heaven.

Somewhere along the line, it got dipped in marinara sauce. And, poof, it was Italian.

8. You can celebrate New Year’s Eve at the Olive Garden in Time’s Square.

If you want to be in the middle of all the action without being jam-packed body-to-body waiting for the ball to drop on Time’s Square, you can reserve a spot at Olive Garden for $400 per person.

I’m not sure what you actually get for that price tag. But, it’s actually one of the more affordable options.

9. Never-ending pasta for 2 months for $100.

Wait?

What?

Hang on! Let me do the math. How many times a day could I eat pasta? Would breakfast count? Oh, wait. They’re not open for breakfast. Okay, so two times a day for roughly sixty days is 120 different pasta meals for $100. That’s less than a dollar a meal! Sold!

The most meals I’ve heard of being eaten on a Pasta Pass was by a self-proclaimed “Pasta Pastor” from North Carolina who managed to consume 115 meals. That’s not bad. But, I think I could have slipped in five more bowls of pasta myself.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to score one of these Never Ending Pasta Passes. They only sell a few thousand each year and they’re usually sold out within seconds. The first time they ran the promotion in 2014, every available ticket sold within one second and their website crashed from the onslaught of activity.

So, if you must have this Pasta Pass in your life, stay in tune with what they’re doing on their website and be ready to hover over your mouse key and attack when the green light says go! One can dream. Right?

10. Olive Garden is international.

Those amazing breadsticks aren’t only loved her in the states.

They have restaurants in Canada, El Salvador, Malaysia, Mexico, Kuwait, Brazil, Peru, and the United Arab Emirates. For some unknown reason, the Lima location is called “Olive.”

Not bad for a restaurant concept that specializes in amazing Italian goodness with an American flair.

I wonder if we’ll ever see one pop up in Italy?

11. You can always order from the lunch menu.

Now, there’s something I like to see! When I eat out, I like to pig out and try a variety of everything. Then, I get the bill and I’m in sticker shock!

But, Olive Garden will let you order off of the lunch menu at any time of the day. Outstanding! The portions are still plentiful. And, you still get all of the salad and breadsticks you can eat!

12. Olive Garden was founded by General Mills?

Interesting, huh. I kind of thought it was started as a small business and grew its way into the powerhouse it is today. But, it was actually conceived by the cereal magnate.

General Mills had purchased Darden Restaurants, who owned Red Lobster. Red Lobster was doing so well in the seafood segment that General Mills idealized its Italian counterpart and the rest is history.

13. Olive Garden will sell you a trip to Italy for $200.

Yep. They do it every year. It’s an all-expense paid 8-day trip through Italy. Top-notch hotels, authentic Italian food, and all the tours and architecture await a very lucky fifty people, accompanied by a guest, each year.

That’s right! Only fifty people get to take advantage of this amazing opportunity. You must have to be really involved in their social media and advertising to be able to cash in on this one.

14. The busiest Olive Garden is in Time’s Square.

Times Square in NYC

That makes sense. With a population like New York City has, that’s exactly where you’d expect their busiest restaurant to be.

But, it’s not where the locals hang out. No self-respecting New Yorker would be caught anywhere near the crowds and madness of Time’s square. Tourists frequent the insanity of this three-story monstrosity of a restaurant.

The prices are higher, more in-line with the New York economy. But, that doesn’t seem to matter to the throngs of sightseers who are able to say that they’ve eaten at the busiest Olive Garden in the world.

15. Servers aren’t big fans of never-ending-anything.

Just think about it for a minute. At most other restaurants, you might order a drink, then an appetizer followed by an entree and maybe dessert. So, let’s see. That means your server has to bring you four things plus all of the other little extra things you want.

And, you do want all of those other little things because that’s what makes going out so special. Someone is catering to your every need.

But, with never-ending food options, a server is practically racing to take care of all of their tables and keep up with all of the free refills. And, we’re not even talking about all of the breadsticks.

Reward your servers with a good tip if you’re running them to death. If you take really good care of them, they’ll remember you and the next time you come in, you won’t have to ever wait for anything!

16. Their coupons are good forever?

Well, they’re not supposed to be!

Their coupons have expiration dates just like any other offer. Sometimes, the restaurants will even accept expired coupons within a certain time limit. Just remember to ask nicely! You never know.

Now, with so many coupons available online, savvy diners have found ways to really extend those expiration dates. Screen shots are the most popular way. They take a photo of the offer, edit it removing the date, and present it to their server on their phone.

Remember, though, companies have a bottom line profit that they will strive to achieve. Abusing their coupons could actually be considered theft! And, it takes away from their profit line causing the restaurants to find other avenues like raising menu prices to balance out the loss.

So, use every coupon you can find to take advantage of all of their great offers. But, don’t be that person trying to beat the system and making the rest of us pay your way through life!

17. Monday through Thursday late afternoon is the cheapest time to go.

Actually, their foods pretty reasonably priced even if you go during peak dinner hours. And, you already know that you can always ask for the lunch menu.

But, they even have a reduced menu during the week when they aren’t so jam-packed. Monday through Thursday from three o’clock to five o’clock they offer their “Dinner Duos” menu.

For under ten dollars, you get a complete Italian meal with a choice of entrees with more food than you will need because of all the free salad and breadsticks.

Of course, we know that the salad and breadsticks aren’t free. You know that their costs are factored in somewhere. But, it just sounds better when you say free!

18. The mints really are better than if you buy them at the store.

If you thought the amount of breadsticks they sold was amazing, think a about how many mints they must give away every day. I know I leave with a handful every time.

The mints are actually specially made for Olive Garden by Andes. The proportion of chocolate to mint is a little different than the ones that you buy anywhere else.

And, that alone makes it perfectly acceptable to leave with a handful every time you go!

19. Why do they always bring out one extra breadstick?

Believe it or not, they only want you to eat one and share the last one, like that ever happens! Remember that 700 million breadstick count. Yep, that’s more than one per person for sure. Those poor servers are running laps keeping breadsticks on the table.

I can only imagine what it’s like in the kitchen if several servers are waiting for hot breadsticks to come out of the oven. It must be total chaos! Fights breaking out! Pandemonium!

20. The Culinary Institute isn’t really what it seems.

It’s there for sure. It’s actually an estate with a hotel and winery used as a getaway for company employees as an incentive program. Sounds like a good perk to me!

A select few lucky Olive Garden managers get to visit the institute every year. They learn about Italian culture while participating with chefs making new recipes and tasting wine.

While they may have glamorized the concept a bit, it’s still an institute, right? And, culinary people are there teaching about food and tasting wine. So, okay, it’s a culinary institute!

Well, actually, maybe more than tasting is going on. And, that’s OK! Live it up! Wine in Italy doesn’t have any phosphates like our wine does. So, no headaches as long as you drink an equal amount of wine and water!

21. You can sample wines for free!

Did I say free again? That’s right! Olive Garden loves that word. And, so do we!

Their wine culture is pretty obvious. Just look around when you go in. You will see wine everywhere. It’s usually displayed right at the front door and then decorated throughout the entire restaurant. They do love their wine!

And, they’ll give you free samples. There’s even usually someone roaming around the dining room offering free tastes of wine. Be very nice to this person!

Your server is also encouraged to offer you samples of wine. You can actually taste three different wines for free, four if you count the one you snagged already!

That’s a lot of free wine!

22. Olive Garden has healthy food.

Honestly, I don’t know why you would even put yourself through the torture of going to a restaurant specializing in pasta, rich sauces, and Italian cheese if you aren’t going to indulge. You can almost taste the aroma when you walk into the place!

But, if you have the willpower, they do have a few healthy food items.

Minestrone soup tops their list. It is an amazing soup made of hearty Italian vegetables in a really flavorful broth. You can even have salad with no dressing for a healthy option.

Did I just say that? Back up. I take it back. You can eat salad with no dressing, but please don’t. You don’t have to put yourself through that. At least, get dressing on the side and dabble with it.

And, they do have some low-calorie items on the menu.

But, really, if you’re at Olive Garden, eat!

23. Celebrities eat at Olive Garden.

Jimmy Fallon and wife Eve Mavrakis share a laugh at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner May 1, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Jimmy Fallon and wife Eve Mavrakis share a laugh at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner May 1, 2010 in Washington, D.C.

Everyone love Olive Garden, even the rich and famous. While they may not advertise it, except Jimmy Fallon, of course, many celebrities will try to sneak in for some of those amazing breadsticks.

We’ll let them sneak and not tell you who they are. But, they know who they are.

24. You won’t find chicken Parmigiana in Italy.

This is one of their dishes that brings on all of the Americanized Italian food comments from the naysayers.

And they’re right. Parmigiana is an Italian style of cooking achieved by breading, sauce, and cheese. But, it’s traditionally only eggplant that is prepared this way in Italy.

The early Italian emigrants came up with this recipe as chicken was easier to find than eggplant. Either way, we love Parmigiana!

25. They almost limited their breadsticks!

A group of investors analyzing profitability decided that Olive Garden should limit their breadsticks to one per person.

Excuse me, just how would that work? There would be no reason for a basket. You’d just get one on your bread plate. Would there also be someone in authority walking around passing out your one bread stick? Or, would they trust your server with the precious breadstick?

Luckily, that idea never came to fruition.

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