14 Ordering Mistakes You’re Making At Olive Garden
Olive Garden is quite popular and has nearly 900 locations across 52 U.S. states and territories. Believe it or not, food manufacturer General Mills actually founded the casual Italian restaurant chain in 1982. However, since 1995, Olive Garden has been part of the Darden Restaurants group.
If you’ve been to Olive Garden before, then you’re already familiar with the wide assortment of pastas, soups, salads, and appetizers it offers. What you might not realize, however, is that there are quite a few tips and secrets for ordering at the restaurant that can help you get the most out of your meal and ensure that you’re getting the best deal. In fact, you may have been unknowingly making several mistakes while dining at Olive Garden. Whether you eat there every week or have only been to Olive Garden a few times, read on to learn how you can avoid these ordering mistakes.
1. Not downloading the Olive Garden app
If you plan on ordering from Olive Garden, you should definitely download the Olive Garden App. The app — which is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play — offers several features that will enhance your overall experience at the restaurant. One of the biggest perks is helping you get seated faster. If you’re heading to Olive Garden during a busier time of the day, log in to the app while you’re on the way. You can view the current wait and put your name on the waitlist. Once you arrive and check in, you’ll be able to get seated more quickly than if you had waited until you got to the restaurant to add your name to the list.
If you’re planning on placing a to-go order, you’ll also want to have the app installed on your phone. It allows you to easily place your order and will even save your favorite items, making it easier to reorder them the next time an Olive Garden craving hits.
2. Not dining in on your birthday
If you have a birthday coming up, consider celebrating it at Olive Garden. In addition to the satisfying and delicious meal that you’ll be able to enjoy, there are other perks to dining at Olive Garden on your special day. First, when you celebrate a birthday at Olive Garden, your server will give you a free dessert. You may be able to choose from some of the restaurant’s scrumptious dessert offerings, such as Tiramisu, Strawberry Cream Cake, Black Tie Mousse Cake, Chocolate Brownie Lasagna, or Sicilian Cheesecake with Strawberry Topping.
The other reason you’ll want to consider heading to Olive Garden on your birthday is to get serenaded by the servers. While some restaurants don’t sing to birthday guests anymore, Olive Garden still keeps this tradition alive, if the guest of honor so desires. What can be better than getting a free dessert and having the servers and the people at your table showing you a little extra birthday love?
3. Not signing up for the eClub newsletter
If you haven’t already signed up for the eClub newsletter, there is no time like the present to remedy that mistake. When you sign up for the newsletter, you can keep up with the latest and greatest information about Olive Garden. Be one of the first to hear about any special promotions or new dishes the chain will be unveiling.
eClub subscribers will also receive coupons to help them save money the next time they visit the restaurant. Signing up for the eClub newsletter only takes a few seconds. You’ll just need to enter your name, email address, zip code, and birthday. If you enjoy other Darden restaurants — like Longhorn Steakhouse, Yard House, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, or The Capital Grille — you can also opt in to receive specials and coupons from them at the same time you complete your registration with Olive Garden. Once you’ve finished signing up for the newsletter, consider signing up to receive text updates for even more special information and savings. Just text OGNEWS to 29002 to sign up.
4. Not trying the Never-Ending Soup, Salad & Breadsticks
One of the things that Olive Garden is most well known for is its Never-Ending Soup, Salad & Breadsticks. If you haven’t tried these promotions before, that’s definitely something you’ll want to remedy the next time you visit. The servers at Olive Garden always bring breadsticks to each table. Once you and your group have devoured the first basket of warm and delicious breadsticks, don’t be afraid to ask for more.
If you order a soup or house salad, you can also get unlimited refills thanks to this special deal offered by Olive Garden. There are four savory soups to try: Zuppa Toscana, Pasta E Fagioli, Minestrone, and Chicken Gnocchi. And, one of the best things about Olive Garden’s special is that you can try a different soup when you order your refill. Just remember that the Never-Ending Soup, Salad & Breadsticks specials only apply to dine-in orders. You won’t be able to add these specials to a to-go order or order extra to take home. If you dine in the restaurant, your server will probably let you take home whatever is already on the table, though.
5. Not ordering a family-style meal
You should also consider ordering a family-style meal the next time you eat at Olive Garden. These large trays of some of the most popular entrées on the menu are designed to serve four to six people. There are several options to choose from, including Chicken Parmigiana, Shrimp Alfredo, Chicken Alfredo, Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Five Cheese Ziti al Forno, Lasagna Classico, Cheese Ravioli, and Chicken Fingers. In addition to these entrées, you can also order a Jumbo House Salad, a gallon of soup, or a half-gallon of soup.
Beyond making it easy to serve a crowd, these meals can also help you save money. For example, a large tray of the Lasagna Classico, which serves up to six people, costs $46.99. An individual Lasagna Classico entrée costs $17.99. If you were to order six individual entrées, it would cost $107.94. That’s a pretty substantial savings.
6. Not saving half of your meal to bring home
Whether you’re trying to eat healthier at Olive Garden or are simply looking to get the best deal, you might want to consider boxing up half of your meal to bring home for later. Unlike some restaurants that hardly give you any food on your plate, Olive Garden definitely doesn’t skimp when it comes to portion sizes.
If you split your meal into two portions and bring half home, you’ll still have plenty to enjoy at the restaurant. Plus, if you are still a little hungry, there’s always the Never-Ending breadsticks to help keep you satisfied. Try asking for a to-go box as soon as you get your order. Then, you can portion it out right away and close up the box. This will make it easier to pack up neatly. It can also help keep you from being tempted to eat "just one more bite," since the extra will already be packed away in the box.
7. Not buying extra gift cards around the holidays
Who doesn’t like receiving a restaurant gift card as a present? Eating out can be expensive, and getting a gift card is like getting free money to enjoy a nice meal out. The next time the holidays come around, don’t forget to stock up on Olive Garden gift cards.
Not only will you have plenty of gifts ready to give friends and family, but you’ll also be able to get rewarded with a free gift card for yourself. Around Christmas and Easter, Olive Garden typically runs a promotion where it gives out a $10 gift card for each $50 gift card you purchase. This can give you a reward for each gift you purchase for someone else. If you eat at Olive Garden a lot, you should also consider picking up a few gift cards for yourself to use. If you buy two $50 gift cards, you’ll end up with $120 total in gift cards. That’s an extra 20% for free.
8. Not ordering the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl when it is available
While the Never-Ending Soup, Salad & Breadsticks is an ongoing promotion offered by Olive Garden, the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl is only offered for select dates each year. This is the perfect promotion for pasta lovers: as much delicious pasta as you can eat. The promo only runs for a few weeks at a time, though, so you’ll want to keep your eyes out for information on the next opportunity — this is another reason to consider signing up for the eClub newsletter.
While the menu may vary for future promotions, past menus for the Never-Ending Pasta Bowl menu have allowed guests to choose from four different pasta types (spaghetti, angel hair, fettuccine, or rigatoni). You can then top your selected pasta with the sauce of your choice (traditional marinara, traditional meat sauce, alfredo, creamy mushroom, or five-cheese marinara) and the topping of your choice (meatballs, crispy chicken fritta, or Italian sausage).
9. Not ordering an extra entrée to bring home
If you’re like many people, you can never have too much Olive Garden. While dining at the restaurant every day probably isn’t feasible for many reasons, you can consider ordering extra food to bring home and enjoy the following day. Olive Garden makes it easy for customers to do this without spending an arm and a leg.
When you order an entrée from Olive Garden’s menu, you can order an additional entrée to bring home. However, instead of paying the full cost of the meal, Olive Garden will only charge you $6 for the additional entrée. There are three scrumptious options included in this money-saving promotion: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, Fettuccine Alfredo, and Five Cheese Ziti al Forno. The $6 Take Home Entrée can be added to both to-go orders and dine-in orders. You can even order up to five Take Home orders per entrée on your check. However, if you want to enjoy your extra meal with breadsticks, soup, or salad, you’ll need to order those separately.
10. Not going for lunch
If you only go to Olive Garden for dinner, you should also consider dining in for lunch sometimes. Olive Garden food can taste great at any hour, but when you can save money while enjoying the chain’s delicious entrées, it’s a little extra tasty. The restaurant’s lunch specials offer an amazing opportunity to save on some of your favorite dishes.
It offers lunch-sized portions of some of the most popular dishes, such as the Chicken Parmigiana, Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Eggplant Parmigiana, and Cheese Ravioli. Each entrée also includes two breadsticks and a soup or salad. Many of these lunch-sized portions cost less than $10, putting them on par with what you’d spend at many fast food restaurants. You can even add a $6 Take Home Entrée to the lunch specials, making them an even better deal. Lunch specials are available Mondays through Fridays until 3 p.m., so don’t miss out.
11. Not customizing your meal
Olive Garden’s menu offers a lot of different choices, but did you know that there are actually even more options available beyond what’s printed on the menu? Olive Garden also has a secret menu, allowing people to customize their entrée to their exact tastes. In most cases, you’ll find that your server and the chefs are willing to make changes to your meal as long as you’re using other ingredients on the menu. Some of these changes may be free, while others may cost you a bit extra. You might want to check on the price before confirming your order.
One thing you can do is to choose a different sauce or type of pasta to pair with the meal you choose. For example, if you want spaghetti with meatballs, but you’d prefer to have it on a thinner or thicker type of pasta, try asking for angel hair or fettuccine. You can also request a customized soup by asking your server to give you two different soups in the same bowl (minestrone and potato soup together create a delicious creamy minestrone soup). If you’re in the mood for an appetizer but can’t decide what to order, try the sampler platter. If it doesn’t have something you’re in the mood for, try swapping it out for a smaller portion of one of the other appetizers that you do feel like.
12. Not splitting the meal to use two coupons
Olive Garden only allows one coupon. One coupon per purchase, that is, not per table. That means that if you have two coupons, you could split the check with another person at your table so that you are both able to use your coupon. While it may not seem like this will save that much, every dollar really adds up.
Let’s just assume that you went with a few friends, that your total bill is $80, and that you and one of your friends each have a coupon for $10 off your purchase. If you don’t split the bill and only use one coupon, you would save $10. But, if you split the bill and can each apply a $10 coupon to your order, you’ll end up saving $20 on your order. In this example, that means that you’d be getting 25% off instead of only 12.5% off. In most cases, you can just pay at your table and split the bill on the tabletop kiosk, so you won’t even need to bother the server by asking them to split the check for you.
13. Not purchasing extra salad dressing to bring home
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Olive Garden’s house Italian salad dressing is absolutely delicious. For many, it is the best part of the salad. It has the perfect ratio of oil, vinegar, and spices, allowing it to so perfectly complement the veggies and croutons in the house salad.
While you can always try copycat recipes for Olive Garden’s salad dressing, did you know that you can just purchase a bottle of the real deal when you’re in the restaurant? That’s right, Olive Garden sells bottles of its salad dressing that you can purchase to use on your own homemade salads. You can even find bottles of the restaurant’s Italian salad dressing at some grocery stores or through select online retailers. The house salad dressing isn’t the only signature Olive Garden product available for purchase, either; the restaurant also sells its Italian seasoning, balsamic vinaigrette, extra-virgin olive oil, and some cheeses.
14. Not bringing gift cards from other Darden restaurants
Olive Garden is part of the Darden family of restaurants. There are several other well-known restaurants that are also part of the Darden group, including LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, The Capital Grille, and Eddie V’s Prime Seafood.
Because all of these restaurants are part of the same family, you can use gift cards for one restaurant at another one of Darden’s restaurants. This means that if you have a gift card to LongHorn, Yard House, or another Darden family restaurant, you can use it at Olive Garden instead. If you were given a gift card to one of these other brands but don’t enjoy it as much as Olive Garden, simply bring it with you to use at Olive Garden and get a meal you’ll enjoy. Similarly, this means that you can also use Olive Garden gift cards at any of the other Darden restaurant chains.