What happened to Olive Garden’s endless pasta bowl?
A flagship of American food excesses, Italian-themed restaurant chain Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion promised pasta lovers their plates would never be empty. For $ 10.99 per person per meal, customers could enjoy as much of the pasta from the menu as they wanted. (Protein like meatballs was extra.)
But the Never Ending Pasta Bowl ultimately didn’t live up to its billing – it ended in 2019 and didn’t return. So what happened?
In a recent conference call with investors, Ricardo Cardenas, the new CEO of Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden, said the NEPB is unlikely to bombard consumers with calories anytime soon. “As we look to the future, we don’t know if we’ll bring and when we’ll bring back Never Ending Pasta Bowl,” he said.
The Bottomless Bowl was, of course, intended to boost Olive Garden sales. But the chain’s sales are already up: 5.2% compared to Q2 in 2019 and 29% over the same period in 2020, with strong activity in take-out meals due to the pandemic. That’s more than what Olive Garden was doing with the promotion in place.
Cardenas went on to say that the Never Ending Pasta gadget may have ultimately had a “negative impact” due to reduced profitability.
The Never Ending Pasta Bowl debuted in 1995 for $ 6.95 per person and was held periodically over the next two decades. In 2019, the company gave away a lifetime pasta pass of $ 500 to 50 customers who appear unaffected by the cruel portion rationing of Olive Garden.
But, as Cardenas pointed out, the chain always has an “endless first course,” with all the salads, soups and breadsticks customers want. The latter was already challenged by chain investors in 2014 over concerns that the breadsticks faded too quickly and led to a lot of financial waste. Olive Garden ignored them; you can still eat as much as you want.