Cheesy, carby wisdom is the best kind of wisdom.
Editors' Note: This article originally ran following the author's 2016 Never Ending Pasta Pass experience; however, the lessons detailed below remain relevant to using a 2017 Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Pass as well. Olive Garden's 2017 passes will go on sale September 14 at 2 p.m. EST for $100 each. The available 22,000 passes, as well as 50 Pasta Passports ($200), which offer an Italian getaway and Pasta Pass privileges, can be purchased through the restaurant's Pasta Pass website. Best of luck to you.
If you read my last post, then you'll know that for seven glorious weeks in the year of our Lord 2016, I am a bedazzled unicorn. A mythical creature of untold fortune and splendor. A Charlie Bucket of modern times, and pasta. Yes, I "won" (read: okay, so I paid $100 but at that price who the hell wouldn't consider it a win?!) the Golden Ticket that is an Olive Garden Never Ending Pasta Pass. And believe me, at this point... it's paid for itself.
Dis me, over here gobbling up all the pasta I can get my hooves on.
This is week four, so I'm entering the homestretch. And I've definitely taken in more than just pasta (and soup, salad, and breadsticks); I have picked up valuable wisdom along the way. Lo, I present to you my tips to getting the most out of your Pasta Pass (and general life) should you be one of the lucky individuals to snag one in 2017. Assuming, of course, Olive Garden makes it another year. More on that in a bit. Read on, pasta people!
1. PAY IT FORWARD AND BE GOOD TO YOUR SERVER.
Okay, so this isn't something I just now learned, but as a service industry veteran I'm compelled to place this above all other topics. Tip your server, ladies and gents. Yes, I can literally walk into an Olive Garden at 11 AM and leave at 10 PM, eating enough salad and breadsticks and pasta to comfortably feed a family of four for two months, all while not having to pay one single red cent. But that doesn't mean it wasn't work for the servers to continually bring me more food and drink, or that the kitchen staff just said "Accio pappardelle!" and that sh*t appeared at my table. These folks' livelihoods, the servers in particular, depend on tips. So I'm going to leave at least 30% of what the bill would have cost me on the table every time, regardless of whether or not I eat one bowl or fifteen. It's the right thing to do, and treating the servers right can pay dividends. Prime example: A particular OG employee now knows me well enough that she brings to-go boxes and extra to-go dressings (that dressing though...) at the same time my food comes from the kitchen, and even boxes everything up for me at the table. She knows my game plan, and expedites my trip because we respect one another. Point being: If you want good service, be a good patron.
What goes around comes around, after all...
2. MAKE YOUR PASS WORK FOR YOU.
I have a system that I've implemented to optimize my Pasta Pass experience. I keep my protein consistent—grilled chicken, if you please—and I'll alternate between two sauces: traditional marinara or alfredo, depending on how active I was that day. As for pasta, I go with either pappardelle or angel hair. Sticking with the same meal components allows me to order confidently and swiftly--and ultimately, gets me on my merry way quickly. And I always ask for a refill when I place my order, even if I know I'm not hungry enough to polish off two bowls. It's called Never Ending Pasta Pass for a reason, folks. Mama didn't raise no fool.
I'll eat several bites of the first bowl, but I'll never finish it. Too many calories. I'm actually trying to lose weight doing this. After proper portioning, I'll box up what's left of the first bowl along with the second, and package the salad separately--paying special attention to Tip #3 below. These leftovers then become my lunch (and possibly dinner) the next day. I eat all of the remaining salad for lunch and portion out enough pasta to keep me satiated without going overboard. When I know I don't have time to head to OG that night, the excess pasta becomes dinner. Then I lather, rinse, and repeat. Doing this has meant that I haven't had to grocery shop for four weeks.
Like I said, this thing has more than paid for itself.
3. GET YOUR SALAD DRESSING ON THE SIDE.
This one is kind of obvious, but nonetheless, important. As mentioned above, I always box up at least half my salad to repurpose for lunch the following day. But unless I request the dressing on the side, I can expect a sad, soggy mess of soupy Italian dressing-flavored croutons and spring mix when I open that to-go box the next day. And ain't nobody trying to eat that.
Note the dressing on the side. ALWAYS. ON. THE. SIDE.
4. I'M NOT ACTUALLY A BEDAZZLED UNICORN :(
You would think, that with a planetary population in excess of six billion, over 800 Olive Garden locations, and only 21,000 Pasta Passes... I'd be the only person in the tristate area—let alone Birmingham, AL—with one of these beauties. So you'll imagine how crestfallen I was to learn that there are FOUR other patrons that frequent my Olive Garden location and bear the mark of Sacred Pasta Person. Like, how?! I haven't crossed paths with this motley crew yet, but I am honestly hoping that before this seven-week run is up, we can all join forces and dine, lording over the other customers while we conquer the whole damn menu with our never-ending refill demands.
Don't worry—I'll make sure everyone tips.
Seriously y'all, it took forever to find a sad unicorn GIF.
5. THIS PROMOTION WON'T BE ENOUGH TO KEEP THE WHEELS ON THE BUS.
Don't get me wrong, I'm extremely grateful Olive Garden decided to do the Never Ending Pasta Pass for another year. It's a brilliant way to make $2.1 million dollars in under a minute. But, at the end of the day, I don't think it can keep the Garden afloat. In a society that's more and more focused on eating cleaner and healthier, bloated chain restaurants like this one don't seem like they'll be able to sustain much longer. They're dying slow, painful deaths. I see it every time I walk into the Olive Garden down the street from me. Tabletops for at least 100 diners, and not even 1/4 of them are filled. Ever. Reduced staffs. Promotions that are designed as a shot-in-the-arm and not as a stopgap to a larger problem. I think we are increasingly becoming too aware of what we're eating and how to eat better to keep these chains going much longer.
Again, I'll stress that I'm riding this Pasta Pass pony til' she bucks, but I think I have a front-row seat at one of the more unheralded cultural shifts of our generation. And it's kind of sad to see. It's the end of an era, a comparatively carefree eating era. I could be wrong, though...
After all, anything is pasta-bowl*.
* Sound it out (pasta-bowl= possible).