Darden Restaurants’ Olive Garden is launching its fifth annual Never Ending Pasta Pass promotion at 2.p.m. EST Thursday with a curlicue: 50 customers will be able to get a Lifetime Pasta Pass for $500.
“Yes, you can purchase a pass that literally gets you all the carbs you can physically consume in one sitting for the rest of your life. Just like the traditional Pasta Pass, the Lifetime model will also include unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks,” writes Emily Price for Lifehacker.
“The passes, however, will only be available to those fast enough to purchase the original Never Ending Pasta Passes. Here’s how it works: On Aug. 15 at 2 p.m. EST sharp, the original Never Ending Pasta Passes will go on sale at www.PastaPass.com for $100 apiece (plus tax) and only for 30 minutes, or until sold out. The first 50 to complete their transactions will be offered the opportunity to opt-in for the Lifetime Pasta Passes for an additional $400, plus tax,” explains Michael Bartiromo for Fox News.
“Those who opted in for the Lifetime passes will be notified if they qualify the following day, at which point they can finish their transactions and start scoping out real-estate listings near their preferred Olive Garden,” Bartiromo continues.
The Never Ending pass is good for nine weeks this year; in the past, it was valid for eight.
“The event is not only a public relations bonanza but a fairly affordable way to get customers in the door during what is an otherwise slow part of the year. Most people wind up paying about as much as they might have for a similar amount of food, and they also might bring along paying friends or order dessert and drinks. Relatively few emulate North Carolina man Alan Martin, who takes full advantage by famously eating every single meal at the chain,” Spencer Jakab writes for The Wall Street Journal.
“In the past, Olive Garden has offered a full-year Pasta Pass and also a Pasta Passport that took guests on an eight-day trip to Italy,” Tonya Garcia writes for MarketWatch.
“Olive Garden announced the Lifetime Pass with a series of clues on the restaurant’s Facebook Page. The page’s followers are already talking about the meals they want to have,” she reports.
“‘Matt for a mere $2,500 we can all eat OG every night for the rest of our lives,’ wrote one commenter. ‘At a dollar a box of pasta it’s paid for itself in less than 7 years.’”
“Ever since its introduction, the Never Ending Pasta promotion has been wildly successful for the company, whose parent is Darden Restaurants. Darden has been seeing strong same-store sales momentum at its Olive Garden stores thanks to management’s continued focus on value. Promotions like the Never Ending Pasta Pass have helped the restaurant stay competitive amongst its peers, and the stock has jumped as a result,” writes Heidi Chung for Yahoo Finance.
“Shares of Darden have risen 11% over the past year, while the S&P 500 rose 4%. Rivals Cheesecake Factory fell 18%, BJ’s Restaurant tumbled 42% and Chili’s parent Brinker International sank 8%,” she adds.
Last year, the passes sold out in less than a second, Lily Rose reported for The Daily Meal.
Whether to participate is not a decision to be made lightly, of course, and we’re not just talking excess carbs.
“Is the Olive Garden $100 pass worth it?” asks Susan Selasky for the Detroit Free Press.
“First, keep in mind that tax and gratuity is not included. And it’s valid only for Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Bowl’s -- which start at $10.99 -- and for dine-in only. The pasta pass promotion runs Sept. 23-Nov. 24. The pass can be used once per visit, but you can visit as many times as you want,” she writes.
Putting it all together, Selasky calculates “to break even you’d need to use it at least nine times -- or once a week.”
But there are less gustatorial benefits to consider as well.
“Olive Garden has always been known for Italian Generosity and making everyone feel like family, which is why we introduced our Pasta Pass five years ago,” Jennifer Arguello, executive vice president of marketing for Olive Garden says in the release announcing the promotion. “With the introduction of our new Lifetime Pasta Pass, we’re excited to be a part of our biggest fans’ memories around the table for years to come.”
And excited to generate boodles of free publicity to boot.
If you're interested in participating in the sweepstakes, good luck! Mange! And should you overindulge, remember there’s relief -- plop, plop, fizz, fizz -- near at hand.