Is Olive Garden Ending the Never Ending Pasta Bowl?

Is Olive Garden Ending the Never Ending Pasta Bowl?

By Jelisa Castrodale | FoodAndWine.Com

Troy Warren for CNT #Foodie

The promotional deal hasn’t been on the menu since 2019.

In 1995, Olive Garden launched a then-unique promotion, offering its customers the chance to eat as much pasta, salad, and breadsticks as they wanted in one sitting by paying $6.95 for the “Never Ending Pasta Bowl.” The Never Ending Pasta Bowl periodically came and went from Olive Garden’s menu until 2019, which was the last time the chain offered the promo. At that time, the Never Ending deal cost a still-pretty-reasonable $10.99 per person. 

But, much like landline phones and thirtysomethings who can afford to buy a home, The Never Ending Pasta Bowl may only exist in our memories from now on. On a recent earnings call, Rick Cardenas, the soon-to-be CEO of Olive Garden’s parent company Darden Restaurants, said that he wasn’t sure whether the Never Ending Pasta Bowl would ever make a return. 

“As we look forward, we don’t know if we’ll bring and when we’ll bring Never Ending Pasta Bowl back because we have a never-ending abundance every day with our never-ending first course,” he said on Friday, according to Restaurant Business. 

Apparently, Cardenas’ rationale for potentially axing the Never Ending Pasta is because, well, Olive Garden is doing alright without it; sales at Olive Garden improved by 5 percent in the most recent quarter, when compared with the same three-month period in 2019. 

The chain had already decided to “reduce […] the dependency on Never Ending Pasta Bowl,” Cardenas added, a choice that seems to have paid off. (The sales jump wasn’t just because of axing the Never Ending bowl: the increase in takeout orders also contributed. According to Cardenas, to-go orders were 28 percent of the chain’s total sales during that quarter.) 

In 2019, Olive Garden offered 50 lucky people the opportunity to score a Lifetime Never Ending Pasta Pass, if they were fast enough to 1) buy a basic Never Ending Pasta Pass and 2) fast enough to pay an extra $400 to upgrade to the Lifetime version. 

The $100 basic Never Ending Pasta Pass allowed card-holders the opportunity to order — you guessed it — all the pasta they wanted from the chain’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl menu for nine straight weeks. (All 24,000 of the $100 passes sold out in a single second). But 50 lucky, nimble-fingered pass-holders were allowed to extend that perk for the rest of their lives. 

A Darden Restaurants representative told Food & Wine that those lifetime passes are unaffected by the disappearance of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl from the menu. In the meantime, pour one out for those formerly bottomless bowls.

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By Troy Warren

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