A beacon of American gastronomic excess, the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion from Italian-themed food restaurant chain Olive Garden promised pasta lovers that their plates would never be empty. For $10.99 per person, per meal, patrons could enjoy as much pasta from the menu as they wanted. (Proteins like meatballs were extra.)
But the Never Ending Pasta Bowl ultimately failed to live up to its billing—it ended in 2019 and hasn’t returned. So what happened?
On a recent earnings call with investors, Ricardo Cardenas, incoming CEO of Olive Garden parent company Darden, said that the NEPB is unlikely to calorie-bomb consumers anytime soon. “As we look forward, we don’t know if we’ll bring and when we’ll bring Never Ending Pasta Bowl back,” he said.
The bottomless bowl was, of course, intended to drive sales for Olive Garden. But sales for the chain are already up: 5.2 percent over Q2 in 2019, and 29 percent over the same period in 2020, with strong business in takeout owing 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 might have ultimately had a “negative impact” owing to reduced profitability.
The Never Ending Pasta Bowl debuted in 1995 for $6.95 per person and was run periodically over the next two decades. In 2019, the company offered a $500 Lifetime pasta pass to 50 customers who appear to be unaffected by Olive Garden’s cruel rationing of portions.
But, as Cardenas pointed out, the chain still has a “never-ending first course,” with all of the salad, soup, and breadsticks patrons want. The latter was once challenged by investors to the chain in 2014 over concerns that the breadsticks grew stale too quickly and led to a lot of financial waste. Olive Garden ignored them; you can still eat as many as you’d like.