Hell hath no fury like an Olive Garden fan who missed out on seven weeks of never-ending pasta.
Earlier today, the restaurant chain announced a new twist on its popular “Never Ending Pasta Bowl” promotion: Dubbed the Never Ending Pasta Pass, it allows diners to pay $100 for a pass that lets them enjoy all the pasta they can stuff in their bellies any time they visit the restaurant between Sept. 22 and Nov. 9. (They get unlimited Coca-Cola sodas, soup or salad and breadsticks, too.)
The company announced it would sell only 1,000 of the passes and that they would go on sale at 3:00 p.m. EST. The good news for Olive Garden? Interest in the promotion clearly was high, as the passes were sold out by the time we checked Olive Garden’s Web site at 4:15 p.m. The bad news? Many diners who missed out on their chance for a low-priced, almost-two-month-long carb-fest are taking to the company’s Facebook page to express frustration about how the promotion went down.
Some are complaining that the promotion sold out too quickly: “That was bull. The site was crashed and never let me in. You totally underestimated the demand.”
Some are complaining that there were glitches in the process: “This was not the best promotion. I tried to get in starting the second it turned 3:00 p.m., and no go. It actually makes me less likely to go now.“
Another added, “Please please I would love a #pastapass. I tried for an hour, starting at 3pm eastern. Kept getting an error message referring to your server. Please turn this frown upside down.”
You can check out the Facebook thread here:
So how does this shake out for Olive Garden? On one hand, they appear to have made many of their loyal fans disgruntled. On the other hand, the media coverage and social media attention could benefit the struggling Italian restaurant if the frenzy over the Pasta Passes helps lure diners into their restaurants for the wider Never-Ending Pasta Bowl promotion. That annual offer allows customers to eat an unlimited amount of pasta during their visit for $9.99. The chain restaurant says it is its most popular promotion of the year, resulting last year in 13 million bowls of pasta served.
Olive Garden has struggled in recent years, as its core customer base has eroded amid the rise of fast-casual options and a heightening focus on fresh, healthy eating.
Darden, the parent company of Olive Garden, has recently launched what it calls a “brand renaissance plan” for the casual dining chain, which has more than 800 restaurants nationwide. The company has rolled out new lunch and dinner menus. The dinner menu includes some tapas-style items to reflect the trend toward small plates concepts, as well as options priced at $9.99 to appeal to millennials and value-oriented diners.
Olive Garden is also working to use online ordering to beef up its take-out business and is experimenting with a remodeled restaurant design.