What happened to Olive Garden’s Endless Pasta Bowl?

A beacon of American gastronomic excess, Italian-themed gourmet restaurant chain Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion promised pasta lovers that their plates would never be empty. For $10.99 per person per meal, customers could sample as many pastas from the menu as they wished. (Proteins like meatballs were extra.)

But the Never Ending Pasta Bowl ultimately didn’t live up to its billing — it ended in 2019 and didn’t return. So what happened?

During a recent conference call with investors, Ricardo Cardenas, new CEO of Olive Garden’s parent company, Darden, noted that the NEPB is unlikely to hit consumers with a calorie bomb anytime soon. “While we’re looking forward to it, we don’t know if and when we’ll bring back Never Ending Pasta Bowl,” he said.

The bottomless bowl was, of course, intended to boost Olive Garden sales. Corn Sales for the chain are already up: 5.2% compared to the second quarter of 2019 and 29% compared to the same period in 2020, with strong activity in takeaway sales due to the pandemic. That’s more than Olive Garden was doing with the promotion in place.

Cardenas went on to say that the Never Ending Pasta gimmick may have ultimately had a “negative impact” due to reduced profitability.

The Endless Pasta Bowl made its debut in 1995 for $6.95 per person and was performed periodically over the next two decades. In 2019, the company offered a $500 lifetime pasta pass to 50 customers who don’t seem to be affected by Olive Garden’s cruel portion rationing.

But, as Cardenas pointed out, the chain still has an “endless first course,” with all the salad, soup, and breadsticks customers want. The latter was previously challenged by chain investors in 2014, fearing that the breadsticks would go stale too quickly and lead to a lot of financial waste. Olive Garden ignored them; you can still eat as much as you want.

[h/t Insider]