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Posts tagged ‘neverending pasta bowl’

Chains of Love: Who Needs Tinder When You’ve Got Olive Garden?

So, Olive Garden has decided to get into dating advice because millennials. Just #AskAlfredo and you shall receive.

The real question, though, is who am I going to coerce into a date at Olive Garden before the Never Ending Pasta Bowl offer disappears this year?

The First Rule of Neverending Pasta Bowl Is: You Do Not Talk About Neverending Pasta Bowl

“Why?” I was asked on Facebook where all great questions originate. Well, because the Neverending Pasta Bowl has become a tradition, one I must heed despite little interest in flour and water formed into shapes, reconstituted (in unsalted water, of course) and coated in thick tomato sauces during my day-to-day life.

Pizzas may continue being overstuffed, or rather, turned into full-course meals, and burgers may blacken and pinken, yet some things stay staunchly the same. With the fate of autumn novelty, the McRib, up in the air this year, at least you can count on Olive Garden offering all-you-can-eat pasta for a price that still starts a penny shy of $10 some time toward the end of summer, usually August–this year it fell unusually late (and lasts through November 9).

olive garden nepb receipt

Each of my experiences have gotten progressively weirder. I’m not really sure what the promotion costs in reality, despite scrutinizing the receipt. Small print on the website threatens the usual higher prices may apply in NYC garbage, but the base price appears to be $9.99 like anywhere else. As in previous jaunts, if you live in NYC the only clue that this deal exists may be if you catch a commercial on TV. There are no menu inserts or advertisements, no lent cheat sheet as in years past, just a quick verbal description with no prices given.

I suppose one could follow Olive Garden’s millennial-baiting Twitter account for NEPB alerts. Weird Corporate Twitter has become the social media standard. The newish website is designed in that tiled Pinterest style with links to things young people care about like “culinary innovation” and “nutrition,” the redesigned logo curling like reassuring text on the packaging of an eco-friendly feminine hygiene product.

The thing is, the restaurant had no wifi, which won’t do for its intended demographic. I couldn’t even get a signal on my own, and I desperately wanted to Instagram the shit out of my progressing bowls (and ultimately typed bowel later while hastily trying to upload a picture before Gone Girl started because my biggest fear is becoming a during-movie texter, followed by an on-plane barefooter) and ping the brand for attention, but obviously no hashtags were displayed on signage because this NEPB is a stealth campaign of the highest order.

And the plan worked. Not a single diner in the eerie side room that was initially uninhabited, neither the young boy with a father who only ate a bowl of soup, the obvious tourist family of four, the solo lady who gave me faith, nor the girls’ night out crew, was partaking in the deal, and not out of any sense of dignity, I like to believe.

Olive Garden finally convinced me to spring for an extra topping because for the first time in history it wasn’t all sausage or meatballs, but also shrimp fritta a.k.a. breaded, fried shrimp ($4.99 surcharge). Every year two new sauces are introduced, and for 2014 that would be Spicy Three Meat (anyone’s guess which three) and Roasted Mushroom Alfredo, which I only know because of the very informative website. These too, come at a price in select locations. Maybe a dollar in Chelsea? Maybe someone would tell you if you asked? I’m not convinced anyone would know.

olive garden nevereding pasta bowl roasted mushroom alfredo

Cream sauce, penne and fried seafood? Yes, one bowl is plenty.

olive garden nevereding pasta bowl spicy three meat sauce

Bowl two is the size bowl one should probably be but would break the convivial spirit of NEPB. Scale is hard to parse–this meat sundae is roughly the serving of one generous scoop of ice cream.

olive garden black tie mousse cake

Bowl three was forgone in favor of shared chocolate cake. Black Tie Mousse Cake, to be precise, which frankly doesn’t scream young and fresh at all and sounds like something from The Silver Palate Cookbook. If I were an 18-to-34-year-old I would’ve obviously ordered the “dolcini” because small desserts for sharing and health is where it’s at now.

Never Ending Pasta Bowl 2010: A Tale of Two Americas

I like to believe I’m not heavily influenced by advertising. It’s certainly not as if I got the idea to try Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl, an occasional promotion that seems to happen annually around September, based on any commercials (I did flip past one on a Spanish language channel last night–oh, and I see Grub Street has ads in their RSS feed, but not on their site). And I watch a lot of TV. A chain-loving friend happened to mention it was occurring this very second and I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. How else do you think I spend my Friday nights?

After my second NYC experience with the NEPB, it’s become very clear that they want to keep the $8.95 all-you-can-eat deal under wraps. If you’re sad like me, you don’t have a lot of free time but still spend stolen moments putting in different zip codes on chain restaurant sites to gauge small town/big city price discrepancies. Not only is it fun, it makes it obvious why the NEPB is top secret in the city.

A basic bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce will cost $14.50 in Chelsea, $15.50 in Times Square…and $10.75 in pretty much all of New Jersey. I think this is what they mean by Two Americas.

Olive garden never ending pasta bowl instructions If you go to one of these Manhattan locations you will not see any signage, menu inserts and no one will dare speak of it. That is fine, ask anyway. You’ll be handed the server’s pocket cheat sheet (sorry for the blurred snapshot) which lists the seven types of pastas and six sauce options—Chianti Three Meat and Creamy Parmesan Portobello are new!

You’ll also see how they are scripted to upsell you on unlimited meatballs, Italian sausage or roasted chicken for $2.95 and how to ring up situations like someone who decides to go for limitless meat on the second bowl. Insidery.

Olive garden whole wheat linguine

Bowl number one: whole wheat linguine with creamy parmesan portobello sauce because we know the presence of wheat will counteract all the fat and cheese. These noodles tasted suspiciously soft like traditional linguine–whenever I make whole wheat pasta at home, which is rarely, I regret it.  Same for brown rice, which I'm eating tonight by choice.

Olive garden penne

Bowl number two: penne with five cheese marinara. Who knows which five cheeses. Your eyes are not deceiving you; the subsequent bowls are much smaller like something you’d serve a scoop of ice cream in. This is not a complaint. One bowl was plenty—even non-chain pasta tends to bore me—but I had to order at least one more in the spirit of NEPB.

This is no time for hesitation; you have until October 10 to gorge yourself silly on noodles (and breadsticks and salad) for less than nine bucks. If anything, it beats newcomers, Nooï and Hello Pasta.

Previously on Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl.

Olive Garden

The Never Ending Pasta Bow(e)l should really have an extra E because there were some never ending bathroom trips the following day (it was probably my jungle curry lunch, but I don’t want to say anything bad about Chao Thai). Who knew? Even more disturbing is that this was my fourth visit to the Chelsea Olive Garden and I don’t even like (Italian-American) pasta. But all you can eat for $8.95 demanded investigation.

They’re very sneaky with this promotion; despite being advertised on TV continuously, there’s no signage, menu inserts or little cardboard foldovers on any of the tables. It’s all very hush hush and I’m not assertive so I started getting a little nervous. Thankfully, a dining companion who tipped me off in the first place had no qualms about piping up for cheap pasta.

Phew, paying Manhattan chain restaurant prices for mushy alfredo would be harsh (I’m still steaming how once I inexplicably spent close to $50 on a cheeseburger and two margaritas at a Times Square T.G.I. Friday’s. It’s the price you pay for suburban simulacra). I had no idea how the whole thing worked, it’s much more customizable than I’d anticipated. I figured you’d get spaghetti and a couple sauce options, but there were approximately six choices for each.

I have to admit that my linguine with smoked mozzarella and breadcrumbs was satisfying in a creamy starchy way. And I would’ve been fine with the one bowl—pasta is one of the few foodstuffs that never spurs a desire for seconds—but it’s never ending so you have to play along.


Penne with five cheese marina came next, and amusingly, in a bowl half the size as the first. Would the third come in a teacup, we wondered aloud. “People don’t finish their second,” we were bluntly told. I wasn’t complaining because entrée number two had no flavor, like I imagine hospital food would taste. Under-salting is one of my many cooking crimes, I never touch a shaker in restaurants, but this blob was crying out for sodium. Maybe they do it on purpose to quell appetites. Like many a diner before me, I didn’t finish my second bowl.

The upside of such a bargain (don’t forget the salad and breadsticks) is that you’ll have plenty of money left over to get sloshed on inexpensive Shiraz. (9/20/07)

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