Yes, you read right!!! Isn’t that exciting? 😉 After 3 visits of overflow, I was seated in the main dining room on Tuesday. My waitress Katie was the first person who hasn’t acted surprised when I pulled out the pasta pass, and the service was the standard ‘good’. (Not amazing, but good.)
I had water and whole wheat linguini with the spicy meat sauce and meatballs. (I know, that’s a lot of meat, but that 3 meat sauce is REALLY good.) There was plenty of sauce on the pasta and I ended up finishing the entire large plate. That’s the first time I’ve done that, so my relatives who are betting on weight gain might be cheering. I also ordered a bowl of shrimp pasta and a box, to take home for Mom to enjoy.
After dinner I splurged and had the almond chocolate amour. Seriously, these things have ZERO alcohol in them. That’s probably why I liked them so much when I was in my mid-20s. I had just started drinking then so I wasn’t used to the taste of liquor. Now I’m thinking I should bring my own flask and spike the drink. Oh well, at least I can drive home safely. I didn’t finish it anyway. They are HUGE and sweet. (I think I prefer the Tiramisu drink anyway.)
So yeah, no real events to discuss other than an upcoming interview with a Florida newspaper reporter. That should be exciting. I will probably be heading to the O.G. (as we insiders call it) again tonight. That brings my total down to $20/meal. I’m *almost* at the break even point. Must… eat… more… pasta!
Oh, and props to Darden, the corporate owner of Olive Garden. They were really responsive to my concerns and have contacted me a couple times.
Saturday night, Olive Garden was the place to be. I didn’t want to wait 30 minutes for a table so I opted for the bar. It wouldn’t be a great place with company, but alone I was able to put headphones in and drown out all the shouting of “table ready for Michael!” and to-go order taking.
Once again the waiter didn’t know what to do with my pass, but I just expect that now and he brought me soup and breadsticks fairly quickly. I decided to splurge and get one of the frozen blended drinks that I’ve always loved. The ‘tiramisu’ blended was great as normal, and as normal didn’t seem to have much alcohol. Oh well.
It seems to be an established practice that the first bowl they bring you in the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promo is much larger than subsequent bowls. I think next time I’m just going to ask them to bring me a smaller bowl in the first place so that I can enjoy a couple different pastas rather than getting full on the first dish.
The only problem the entire meal was the waiter forgetting my drink and leaving it sitting up on the bar for about 10 minutes. I was able to flag him down and ask if it was mine and he apologized and brought it right away. He was reasonably attentive and the whole experience was a positive one. I ordered a bowl of fresh pasta and asked for a box to take it with me, then promptly forgot it on the table and walked out. Again… oh well.
I will likely be going back tonight. Hopefully this time I won’t forget the take-home bowl. And for those of you wondering, no, I’m not enormous yet. I do still find the food consistently tasty too.
I decided to jet out of a Thursday night get-together early so I could grab some dinner before running home. Getting seated at the La Mesa location was fast, as usual, though I got stuck in the far back “overflow” room again. (It lacks the ambiance of the main restaurant.) I did have the choice of sitting all alone in the bar, but it was kind of cold up front.
Once I was seated it took 11 minutes for the waitress to come over and acknowledge me and even then it was an “I’ll be right with you” which took about another 5 minutes. So 15 minutes in she showed up and asked if she could bring me a drink. I asked for water (trying to cut down the calories a little) and said I was ready to order. I got “the picture on the menu, which was their spiral pasta with a “premium” mushroom alfredo sauce and their special breaded chicken pieces. I also opted for soup this time. (The waitress needs a little training on how to pronounce gnocchi)
The soup came in a reasonable time along with the water. Then the waitress disappeared for an eternity. It was probably 20 minutes before she came by again only THEN realizing that she hadn’t brought any breadsticks. Those came a few minutes later with my pasta. The food was very good. As with the first time, I was full after eating about 50% of the bowl. I really wish they would cut down on the portion size of the initial serving. The only way to take advantage of the “never ending” part is to either get very fat or waste a lot of food.
Then she disappeared again for another 25 minutes. She seemed a little perturbed when I caught her eye and asked her to bring me spaghetti with meatballs. When it came, after about 10 minutes, it was a small bowl with a single meatball. I was going to ask her to just box it up for me but she was gone before I could say anything.
And… that was the last time I saw her. After sitting there for a good 30 minutes I finally just told another waitress that I needed to go. She saw I had the pasta pass and asked if I needed the receipt. I told her ‘no’ and she very kindly helped me box up the food. I mentioned that my waitress had disappeared and she said the woman had gone on a 10 minute break.
So… not the best experience. I really should have asked to speak to the manager. Next time I will. This was the exact opposite of my first visit. That time the waiter was friendly and almost TOO attentive, stopping by every few minutes to see if he could bring me something else. I’m going to chalk this one up to “She’s just not a good waitress” since I’ve never experienced (lack of) service like that at this chain. I certainly didn’t leave a tip this time. (I almost handed the waitress who helped me bag my food a dollar but that seemed lame so I just made sure to tell her how much I appreciated her.)
Yes, Monday was the first day I could use my pasta pass, but I didn’t have time to go until Tuesday. I was pretty excited to wield my newfound powers at the Olive Garden in La Mesa. (Part of me wants to go on pasta pass tour, trying to visit every Olive Garden in the country with this magic card, but unfortunately I have work… unless Olive Garden wants to sponsor me!)
First off, the service was great. I went around 8 and was immediately seated. Per the instructions, I showed the waiter the pass as soon as he came for my drink order. He was a little unsure of the rules regarding the pass, but I don’t hold that against him. There are only 1000 of these things in the wild (give or take) so it’s unlikely that any restaurant would see more than 1 or 2. (According to Wikipedia there are around 820 locations world wide.)
I noticed when given the menu that it has expanded over what I originally found on the website before I purchased the card. They have new premium toppings that range from $3.00 extra to $4.50 for shrimp. They also have a couple of premium sauces that add $1 to the price. This makes the value of the card even GREATER. I enjoyed penne pasta with a triple meat sauce and sausages. The single helping was more than I could comfortably eat and I ended up taking part home for the dogs. The best part was receiving the bill of $0.00 instead of the approximately $17.50 I would have paid. I left a decent tip for the attentive waiter.
The food was really good. I had gone to another Italian restaurant “Tiramisu” recently and mentioned to my date that I would have been just as happy (or happier) eating at Olive Garden for half the price of the fancy, well-reviewed joint. I now stand even more firmly behind that. The food at the high-end restaurant lacked flavor and the interior was bland and empty. Olive Garden feels festive and cozy, and the food has a good kick. Maybe I just lack a subtle palate, but I much preferred the “chain” over the indy shi-shi place.
A friend suggested I try to become the “Jared” of Olive Garden, and I don’t think it’s a bad idea. If I eat appropriate portions and exercise there’s no reason I couldn’t lose weight and get in better shape. That might seem odd since I have an “all you can eat” pass, but actually it makes things easier. Since the pass is already paid for, I don’t feel like I have to “get my money’s worth”. I can eat as little or as much as I want because I know that tomorrow I will still be able to get the same food. Now I just have to figure out how to get Olive Garden’s attention!
My pasta pass came in over the weekend and I wasn’t even around to enjoy it. I have to say, I’m very impressed with the packaging. I figured I’d get a short letter and the card. I didn’t expect the nice box. I’ll give Olive Garden credit. This is a pretty slick marketing idea. They make a thousand of these for a relatively small investment and get TONS of press over it.
There were a lot of complaints on the Olive Garden Facebook page the day the cards were sold. People were complaining that the sale “wasn’t fair”, they should have given cards to everyone who wanted them, etc. What these people don’t understand is … well, actually they don’t understand anything, at least as far as marketing is concerned. This is not a “new product” like an iPhone. They don’t WANT everyone to have one. It’s a loss leader. They put out a limited amount of these to spark interest and get publicity. Instead of looking at it as a product you could purchase, you really had to look at it as a contest… I basically consider myself a “winner” of this pass.
Think Black Friday. Everyone knows that the stores only have a few items at those crazy prices. That’s why people camp out for days in advance. If you don’t get in, you don’t get in, but people don’t whine and complain about ‘fair’. That’s probably because in those cases you can see the line, whereas with this ‘contest’ no one could tell how many other people were queuing up to get a pass. I’d bet it was in the tens of thousands. (I just happened to be lucky and persistent. I had about 10 windows open and kept hitting refresh on all of them till one got all the way through. I ended up with 5 charges on my card because of this, but the duplicates had disappeared by the next day.)
I’m also assuming, since I didn’t have to pay tax, that internally they will just consider the meals ‘comped’ so they can even write off any associated expenses. Somebody over there went to business school!
Yesterday I ‘won’ one of the Olive Garden “Never Ending Pasta” passes. I say ‘won’ because there were only 1000 of them, and the price I paid ($100) was really just a token when you look at the value. If I go 6 times I’ve already paid for the pass.
You can find the original page for the promo here:
The basic outline is that for 7 weeks I will get unlimited access to the “never ending pasta bowl” promotion along with free toppings and soda. (The free drinks benefit also applies to anyone who joins me.) Technically I can only go once a day, though the promotional manager said they aren’t going to keep track or be super-stingy about things like sharing food.
In the end, it has provided a great deal of publicity for them both through the original event and now through all the eBay reselling of the cards. (Average sale price on eBay is $225.) I calculated a maximum value for the card at $850.64 based on:
never ending pasta bowl: $9.99
add meat toppings: $2.99
Tax: 8.75% (in La Mesa, CA)
Final Total = $17.36
Days = 49
Max Value = $850.64
This doesn’t take into account free drinks for friends, or the possibility of being sneaky and going more than once a day.
So, my intention in this blog is to see how fat I (don’t) get. (My mother is convinced.) Also to catalog the “rock star” experience of being one of only 1000 people (or close thereto, counting contest winners) to have this pass.