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8 Secrets Olive Garden Doesn't Want You to Know

Some things, the restaurant would rather keep from “family.”
FACT CHECKED BY Mura Dominko

The Olive Garden is one of the most well-established casual dining restaurants in America, with about 880 locations.

Founded in late 1982, this year marks the 40th that the company has been welcoming diners to sit down and enjoy plentiful servings of pasta, salad, and, of course, the famed breadsticks. But the chain has its share of detractors, as evidenced by even the quickest glance at comments on any mainstream social media platform. For example, one recent Tweet from a user named Lil Kimchi read: "Almost everything at Olive Garden gets microwaved." Another, from a user called Sandy Joe Karpetz read: "It pains me that my very Last Meal in a restaurant before the pandemic was at an Olive Garden."

On the other hand, plenty of people love the place. Enough that the chain generated $3.59 billion in 2021 despite occasional closures forced by COVID-19, though the sales were still below the $4.01 billion in 2020 and $4.29 billion from 2019, according to Statista.

Whether you love or hate it, there are a few things the restaurant would rather you didn't know.

For more, check out Secrets Texas Roadhouse Doesn't Want You to Know.

1

The Never-Ending Pasta Bowl may never come back

olive garden never ending pasta bowl
Olive Garden/Facebook

Olive Garden's President and COO Rick Cardenas recently hinted at the fact that the chain may never bring back its Never-Ending Pasta Bowl, which netted a diner as much pasta as he or she could eat for just $10.99. The promotional deal had been offered time and time again, but its now two-year hiatus and Olive Garden's continued growth during that period seems to have given the chain the confirmation that bottomless pasta can be retired without major backlash.

"We know [Never-Ending Pasta Bowl] was a negative impact over the years . . . And so we decided to reduce [our] dependency on [it] this year," said Rick Cardenas, president and COO of Darden Restaurants, Olive Garden's parent company. "As we look forward, we don't know if we'll bring and when we'll bring Never-Ending Pasta Bowl back."

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2

The Olive Garden Cooking School in Tuscany is not a real culinary school

olive garden tuscany
Olive Garden/Facebook

The Olive Garden likes to tout the fact that it has a cooking school in Tuscany, Italy. But it doesn't–not a real cooking school comparable to, say, the Culinary Institute of America or Le Cordon Bleu. According to Eater, what actually happens is that the company rents out a Tuscan hotel and restaurant for a period of time during its off-season and sends a handful of managers there to eat some Italian food and have a bit of interaction with local chefs.

3

The beloved Chicken and Gnocchi Soup is terrible for you

olive garden chicken gnocchi soup
Olive Garden/Facebook

Though a perennially popular Olive Garden menu item, the chain's Chicken and Gnocchi soup is one to skip if you value your health. It's packed with 1,290 milligrams of sodium, which is well over half the doctor-recommended maximum for an entire day. And it's also rather high in saturated fat.

4

Waiters will only deliver one breadstick per person at a time

olive garden breadsticks

Yes, the breadsticks at the Olive Garden are never-ending, but you'll have to be quite patient if you want to fill up on them. According to Reader's Digest, waiters are obliged to bring just one breadstick per diner per basket delivered, with the only exception being one extra breadstick in the first basket.

5

Olive Garden cooks do not use salted water for the pasta

olive garden pasta
Olive Garden/Facebook

In the eyes of most cooks, preparing pasta in salted boiling water is simply the way to do it, there's no question in the matter. But according to Business Insider, Olive Garden employees are expressly prohibited from salting the water because it causes wear and tear on the pots, breaking them down too quickly and impacting the bottom line.

6

The pasta is pre-cooked

olive garden pasta with sauce and cheese
Olive Garden/Facebook

A former Olive Garden employee opened up about some of the chain's kitchen practices in a Quora Q&A forum and revealed that the pasta is never cooked fresh. In fact, the chefs boil huge portions of pasta to an al dente finish every morning, then toss it into ice water baths. When a customer orders a dish, they place enough for the serving back into boiling water to rapidly finish the cooking.

7

Many items are simply reheated in the microwave

microwave
Shutterstock

Last year, a former employee of the chain revealed several behind-the-scenes secrets about Olive Garden on Tiktok. One of the things she mentioned is that Olive Garden uses microwaves to heat up pre-made items. "Yes, they do use a microwave," the former server is said to have alleged about Olive Garden. "Your potatoes, your veggies, certain sauces, and some of your meats are just microwaved and put on your plate."

8

They've been accused of serving iffy chicken

olive-garden-asiago tortelloni alfredo with grilled chicken

The same employee said the chain's chicken is less than top-notch. "All across the board, they changed their chicken about six years ago from good chicken to chicken that's not so great," Newsweek reported the former employee saying. "It's not 100 percent chicken, and the chicken that comes on the never-ending pasta bowl is actually canned chicken. Or, canned mystery chicken."

However, Olive Garden told Eat This, Not That! the claims about canned chicken aren't true and that absolutely none of the chicken served at the restaurant comes from a can.

For more, check out the 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked By How Toxic They Are.

Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more