I Bought Olive Garden's Pasta Pass—Here's What It Was Like
The stakes were high. My adrenaline raced as I waited for the page to load. No, I wasn't buying hard-to-get concert tickets or a cheap international flight—I was trying to buy the Olive Garden pasta pass.
Every year, a lucky portion of Americans get to purchase the credit-card-sized Pasta Pass, entitling them to nine weeks of pasta, soup, salad, and breadsticks at Olive Garden. This year, the chain sold 24,000 passes, as soon as they went on sale. (I actually didn't snag one myself, but my coworker Ann Marie was lucky enough to beat the computer, and she didn't want to buy one for herself.)
A week and a half into the pasta pass, I've visited Olive Garden twice so far, and have plans to enjoy many more pasta options before the remaining weeks are over. Here's what you should know if you're considering buying it next year, or just want to know why the pasta pass sells out so quickly.
Hint: There are so many pasta-bilities to choose from and mix and match.
What does the pasta pass include?
Theoretically, an Olive Garden pasta pass will get you endless bowls of pasta, as well as soup or salad and breadsticks. But the pasta portions are, frankly, massive, and it's pretty difficult to eat your way to a second bowl, especially if you start off the meal with a breadstick or two.
The Never-Ending Pasta Bowl menu is straightforward, too, although there are more than 100 potential combinations.
You can order any of the following pasta:
- Whole Grain Linguine
- Angel Hair
- Gluten-Free Rotini
Then you can choose any sauce you want to go with the pasta. The sauce options include:
- Five-cheese Marinara
- Traditional Marinara
- Meat Sauce
- Creamy Mushroom
- Creamy Roasted Garlic
To balance out the meal, you can also choose vegetables or a meat-based protein topping:
- Italian Sausage
- Crispy Chicken Fritta
- Grilled Chicken
- Crispy Shrimp Fritta
- Garden Veggies
If you have the pasta pass (which is $100 plus tax), there are a lot of possibilities to choose from. If you don't have the pasta pass, you can buy a never-ending pasta bowl for $10.99, but the toppings will cost extra (most are around $4).
How does the pasta pass work?
Essentially, you can keep ordering more bowls of pasta (in varying combinations of sauces and pasta styles) until you're stuffed to capacity. For my first use of the pasta pass, I chose my favorite pasta style, rigatoni, with the five-cheese marinara and the crispy chicken fritta.
It was a challenge for me to finish the last rigatoni, but I powered through so that I could see the difference in scale from the first course to the second. The initial pasta bowl is bigger than a dinner plate, while the second (and third, and so on) servings of pasta are much smaller.
For my second course, I chose spaghetti with creamy roasted garlic sauce. There were fewer pieces of crispy chicken in the second course, but it was still plenty of food for my lunch the next day. (A note on leftovers: The never-ending pasta bowl is dine-in only, but you can usually take home the remaining portion of your last bowl. If you're bringing your own Tupperware, just make sure it's clear to your server that you're taking home your final course, not trying to game the pasta pass system.)
How much smaller is the second bowl of pasta?
The additional pasta pass servings are about half the size of the original bowl. But the good news is that they don't get continually smaller over time.
I enlisted my husband to come along and purchase a never-ending pasta bowl, knowing that he had a better chance of reaching a third course than I did. He ordered the meatballs with each course, and all three dishes came with two meatballs. The second and third plates were the same size, but he couldn't eat more than two.
Is the pasta pass worth it?
It depends on how convenient it is for you to get to Olive Garden, and how much you like pasta. This isn't the best pasta you'll ever eat, and the sauces rely more on fat for flavor than on seasonings and spices. But if you're just looking for some affordable, easy meals, it's definitely worth it.
And budget-wise, if the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl costs $10.99 a visit, before toppings, you don't have to visit the chain many times for it to pay off. The pasta pass costs just $100 plus tax, so it would more than pay off if you visited Olive Garden even twice a week.
The Olive Garden pasta pass isn't giving me the most gourmet meals I've ever eaten, but am I getting my money's worth? Absolutely. Will I buy a pasta pass again next year? I'll certainly try!