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Customers Are Flocking to Olive Garden in Droves—Here's Why

The chain's customer traffic surged in 2023—and that trend seems to be continuing into 2024.

A handful of American restaurant chains—including major brands like Cracker Barrel and TGI Fridays—have been losing traffic or shuttering stores lately due to changing customer habits and other financial woes. But as some rival chains are seeing their popularity falter, customers have been flocking to Olive Garden in droves.

The foot-traffic analyst firm just released a new report exploring recent customer traffic trends at Olive Garden and some of the other brands operated by the Italian chain's parent company, Darden Restaurants. The report found that Olive Garden saw notable increases in customer visits last year, including an 8.8% jump in traffic in the first quarter, a 2.2% jump in the third quarter, and a 5.4% jump in the fourth quarter.

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The only period in which Olive Garden didn't see a traffic increase last year was the second quarter. But even then, visits only dropped by 0.7%. This means that throughout most of 2023, Olive Garden drew in more customers than it did in 2022.

The chain's impressive traffic trends have largely continued into 2024. The report revealed that Olive Garden's customer visits dropped by 5.5% in January due to the powerful winter storms that slammed the United States at the beginning of the year, spurring many consumers to stay at home instead of eating out. However, Olive Garden's traffic more than recovered in February 2024 as it saw a 3.8% increase in visits, "indicating that Darden brands are likely in for another year of robust visits," according to the report.

person reaching for olive garden breadsticks next to a bowl of salad and chicken & gnocchi soup
Olive Garden / Facebook

So, what's behind this recent surge in traffic at Olive Garden? While there likely isn't one overarching reason, the report did offer some insight into the factors that could be at play. One of Olive Garden's major traffic drivers, for example, may have been the return of its fan-favorite Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion during the fall of 2023.

As noted in the report: "The Italian-focused chain's success was likely bolstered by the return of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl – offered from late September 2023 through mid-November – which appears to have attracted even more hungry diners than it did the previous year."

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Darden CEO Rick Cardenas also commented on the success of the promotion during the company's latest earnings call this past December, revealing that demand for the Never Ending Pasta Bowl was even higher in 2023.

Another factor that may be driving Olive Garden's impressive traffic is some recent shifts in customer behaviors. More customers have been visiting Olive Garden and other Darden brands like LongHorn Steakhouse and Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen specifically during the mid- and late afternoon in recent years.

According to, this "suggests that this trend of late afternoon and early dinner visits is becoming the new normal." The foot traffic platform also suggested that Olive Garden and other Darden chains could further cash in on the early dining trend by offering more happy hours and late afternoon specials. Darden is scheduled to publish a new quarterly earnings report on March 21, which should provide fresh insight on whether Olive Garden has been able to maintain its recent success.

Zoe Strozewski
Zoe Strozewski is a News Writer for Eat This, Not That! A Chicago native who now lives in New Jersey, she graduated from Kean University in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Read more about Zoe
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