In October of 2015 a small box arrived at my desk. As I opened it, the card inside popped up at me, in the sort of reveal I expect to be accompanied by a hallelujah chorus. That card entitled me and three of my closest friends to as many bowls of pasta as we could eat from America’s most bottomless Italian restaurant chain, the Olive Garden. I had received one of the coveted Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Passes.
Despite any opinion you may have of Olive Garden, “coveted” is the right word here. The Pasta Passes, of which there were only 2000 last year, sold out in a matter of moments. And, like Kevin James’ brand of everyman comedy, the Never Endingness is back for 2016. But this time many more of you will have the opportunity to gorge yourselves on Alfredo. Olive Garden decided to increase the number of Pasta Passes by 2000 percent to 21,000. They know a successful gimmick when they see one. Passes go on sale for $100 a piece on September 15 at 2 PM, and if the past two years are any indication, you better be sitting by your computer waiting for the clock to strike because they’ll almost certainly disappear immediately.
The real question of course, is, are they worth it? If you think Olive Gardens are only useful as a means of keeping America’s Tuscan villa façade workers employed, you can save everyone some time and just skip to the comments section to write about your disdain for their breadsticks. But, if you have fond childhood memories (or fond adult memories) of dining at the Olive Garden, here’s what I can tell you about life with a Pasta Pass.
It's better than I remember
Pre Pasta Pass, the last time I had eaten at an Olive Garden was 8 years ago before running a 10K. My memory of the pasta there in the mid-aughts was of gloopy noodles and flavorless sauce. What I ate last year was neither. And while I'm not saying the pesto cavatappi is going to be bringing anyone a Michelin star, if you calibrate your expectations accordingly you may just enjoy yourself.
You don’t have to eat there that often to get your money’s worth
No need to approach Pasta Pass possession like a challenge to be conquered. I ate there 13 times in 7 weeks.
If you're going to do this, make sure you have an Olive Garden nearby
I was fortunate(?) enough to work across the street from the Olive Garden in Times Square. That made for convenient lunches. But the closest OG to my house was about 15 miles away through New York traffic. Dinners were hassle. Driving 40 minutes home full of Bolognese is not fun.
Don’t order wine
Or mudslides or any other drink that comes in a giant glass. That’s how they get you. Eat your pasta, drink some water and go home. Your $100 investment will turn into $500 pretty quickly with the help of some well vodka or Chianti.
Have someone to eat with
They did away with the family version of the Pasta Pass I had last year, so please, find a friend to buy one with you and employ the buddy system using them. I ate alone once. Sitting at an Olive Garden table for one over your third bowl of pasta is not a way anyone should spend an evening.
For anyone who plans on buying a pass, the link will be available here on September 15.