Is this the end of Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl? Fans of the restaurant chain might be facing a future without the bottomless bowl of carbs.
During a recent Q2 earnings call for Olive Garden's parent company Darden Restaurants, soon-to-be CEO Ricardo Cardenas suggested that the Never Ending Pasta Bowl might never return to the menu.
"We don’t know if we’ll bring and when we’ll bring Never Ending Pasta Bowl back because we have a never-ending abundance every day with our never-ending first course," he said in a transcript of the call obtained by TODAY Food.
In case you've never been to Olive Garden, Cardenas was referring to its entrees that come with unlimited breadsticks and another never-ending option that lets customers get unlimited soup or salad and breadsticks.
During the call, Darden announced that sales have been higher than pre-pandemic levels at all of its restaurants, including Olive Garden, which saw a major boost in takeout sales in recent quarters. It makes sense, since that many families have been eating out less during the pandemic.
Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl was first introduced to the menu in 1995 when it began offering customers unlimited servings of pasta, sauce and toppings in one sitting for just $6.95.
These sorts of promotions always draw in customers, but Cardenas noted that the Never Ending Pasta Bowl has had a "negative impact over the years" with the profitability not being "as high as" what they're raking in with regular sales.
"And so, we decided to reduce the dependency on Never Ending Pasta Bowl this year because we didn’t need to drive volume into our restaurants," he explained.
Sales are pretty solid right now, even without a never-ending plate of pasta to attract customers to the restaurant, and Cardenas said there are multiple factors influencing the possible extinction of the fan-favorite promotion.
"As we think about why we had a better performance, even lapping Never Ending Pasta Bowl, as I said, it was productivity. We just got better at serving the guests when they came in the restaurant. Our To Go business stayed strong, which is a very productive business for us," he said.
The all-you-can-eat promotion has evolved a bit over the years, and the restaurant began offering a $100 Never Ending Pasta Pass in 2014 that let customers enjoy the Never Ending Pasta Bowl as frequently as they desired over the course of seven weeks.
The following year, Olive Garden doubled the number of Never Ending Pasta Passes they sold to 2,000, and they sold out in less than one second. In 2016, 21,000 passes were up for grabs and they also disappeared in seconds.
By 2017, the restaurant had upped the ante even more and sold 22,000 passes in addition to offering 50 super fans the chance to score a "Pasta Passport to Italy" that included an all-inclusive, weeklong trip to Italy for the pass holder and one friend (on top of the pasta benefits).
In honor of the 23rd anniversary of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl, Olive Garden sold 23,000 passes in 2018, with 1,000 additional Annual Pasta Passes passes for $300.
Customers haven't had a chance to purchase the pasta passes since 2019, when Olive Garden gave away 24,000 passes, including 50 Lifetime Pasta Passes.
Odds are there will be plenty of unhappy customers if the chain puts the kibosh on the Never Ending Pasta Bowl.