Olive Garden is “Italian inspired”, but at the mercy of its provincial, unsophisticated diners.
The Olive Garden is subjected to the whims of the people who eat at Olive Garden, and the chain has no choice but to bend to their wistful, suburban, and tyrannical needs. That means value (a $6.95 unlimited soup, salad, and bread-sticks lunch special), overcooked pasta, frosted plastic salad bowls, and avoiding confusing words like “gnocchi.”
Olive Garden Headquarters knows that their diners have limits: “Capers, with their salty, pickled flavor, are too unexpected for many customers, says a spokeswoman.”
And the restaurant chain will do whatever it takes to make customers happy: “At Olive Garden, pasta is served soft, not al dente or slightly firm, the traditional Italian method.” Is it authentic or not? “We don’t use the word authentic,” said the president of Olive Garden. He prefers the term “Italian inspired.”
The chain does indeed take “inspiration” from Italy: Chefs at Olive Garden HQ went on a trip to Northern Italy and had “a fresh-torn pasta dish with olive oil, garlic and herbs.” Somehow that dish was “reverse-engineered” into “baked pasta romana—a mix of lasagna pasta, rich cheese sauce, spinach and either a beef or chicken topping.” Originally it was chicken with roasted tomato sauce, but diners didn’t find it “cravable.” And the chain pushes the limits of gastronomy: “Earlier this year, a pear and Gorgonzola ravioli with shrimp went too far.” The chain deemed the dish too “culinary forward.”
And all Olive Garden wants to do is update the damned dishware, but they can’t. The frosted, “semi-translucent, plastic, flower-shaped salad bowl” that delivers unlimited refills has been in use for decades, and every time Olive Garden tests new bowls, diners revolt. “There is a lot of love for that bowl,” said Dan Kiernan, executive vice president of operations for Olive Garden. This is hard to believe in today’s marketplace, although it must be true and the company wants to keep their customers happy at all cost.