Friday, February 13, 2009

What's Happened to Olive Garden?

The Hollywoods made a trip across the Mississippi River today, venturing into the wilds of the East Bank to attend to a few errands. While there, we decided to eat lunch while there - having a couple gift cards that we've been hanging onto for a long time. One of them was for Olive Garden - which was nearby.

I know it's a chain, but I've always really liked Olive Garden. My friends even threw a bash for me after my Holy Ordination at the Fort Wayne, Indiana's OG. I've always found the food to be tasty, interesting, served in good portions, and fresh. And in my experience, the service has typically been very good.

But admittedly, we haven't been there in quite some time.

Oh boy.

The menu has shrunk considerably. My seat in the booth was broken. Mrs. H.'s cream for her coffee was curdled. My pizza was very small, bland, and absolutely miserly with regard to the ingredients, and bordered on being undercooked. Some of the pieces literally did not even have a single whole slice of pepperoni on them. The green pepper on each slice amounted to maybe four pieces each of about a quarter inch in length. The side of sauce tasted like the tomato sauce that used to come with the Easy Bake oven. The chicken and dumpling soup was okay - especially the second bowl that actually had dumplings in it (which I suppose nullified the chicken bone I got in the first one). Mrs. H.'s minestrone was also different than the soup of the good old days, being heavy on pasta, and light on veggies. Even the bread sticks, which we both remember as being fresh and golden brown, were only worthy of a "meh" and were served in plastic imitation baskets that still had water from the dishwasher in them.

Our waiter was lackadaisical. He never offered us wine nor dessert. He mumbled his way through all the motions. He really didn't seem happy - and neither did any of the staff. But I suppose it may have been related to the meeting of the sober-looking suits that was going on in the back room.

Now, I know you can't judge a whole chain by one experience. But one thing is for sure - the quality of the ingredients has diminished. The Italian sausage was not nearly as good as I remember it to be - not even close. Overall, the food was bland and boring. It tasted like Olive Garden has opted to cut corners by buying cheaper ingredients. I think that is a risky strategy in depressed economic times. Restaurants need to compete as patrons eat at home more often. If going out to eat is going to be increasingly rare, we won't squander it on boring, bland, corner-cutting food and mediocre service.

But then again, maybe that explains the sober-looking suits and worried looks on the faces of the staff.


Rev. Jim Roemke said...

Wow, sorry to hear about such a bad experience. My wife and I went to an Olive Garden for an anniversary and it was wonderful. That's the problem with some chains, there can be some enormous differences from one place to another. Look at our own chain of Lutheranism ;)

Father Hollywood said...

Ha! Good point!

wmc said...

You are quite correct. The recession will definitely sort out the winners and losers in a buyer's market. Restaurants can save considerable cash with portion control rather than compromising quality. There is no excuse for shoddy service in this tight market where dining out is a luxury.

My wife and I, who are serious "foodies," have seriously cut back on our dining out, opting for the gourmet delights of our own capable kitchen. When we do go out these days, we tend to patronize our favorite owner-operated one of a kind restaurants over the generic chains that have blighted our landscape.