Every year I was at Nevada, around September, my mind would focus on one thing. No, it wasn’t my studies. No, it wasn’t athletics. No, it wasn’t my sad and pathetic lack of a dating life. It was obtaining the Olive Garden Pasta Pass. Now, after four long years, I finally have it. And now, after 49 meals, I am talking. Well, I was talking quite extensively about the Pasta Pass during the 8 week event, but that is beside the point.
For those of you who didn’t follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, the Olive Garden Pasta Pass is simple. For eight weeks, Olive Garden runs their Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion where for a smaller-than-usual price a person can enjoy as many servings of pasta and sauce as they want in one sitting. For an extra charge, you can add a meat topping, like chicken, meatballs or sausage. With the Never Ending Pasta Pass, the pasta, sauce and toppings for the entire eight week event was pre-paid at the paltry sum of $100 plus tax.
The catch is, only a limited number of passes are available nationwide. In 2014, the first year of the promotion, there were only 2,000 total passes, then in 2015 it increased to 10,000, then 21,000, and this year there were 22,000 passes. 22,000 passes for seven/eight weeks of unlimited Olive Garden pasta for the entire country — needless to say, these passes are quite popular. Each year they sell out within one second, so it’s a matter of extreme skill and extreme luck. For the first three years, I screamed out in anguish at being milliseconds too late. This year, I was #13,566. I screamed in joy, then anguish. A technical glitch caused some headaches during the buying process, but the customer service team was adept to deal with it.
Now that I theoretically had dinner covered for eight weeks, I was excited. I started off with my favorite pasta dish: chicken fettuccine Alfredo. I was excited and dead set on trying as many pasta combinations as I could … a kick which only lasted two weeks. I had spaghetti and meatballs, five cheese marinara, angel hair and so on and so forth. The only topping I didn’t try was Italian sausage. Aside from the McGriddle, I do not find sausage appealing, it’s too spicy for me, but I at least tried every sauce and every pasta. But I quickly found out what my favorites were, and toward the end of my pass, I stuck to them. The three major dishes were chicken fettuccine Alfredo, chicken cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta and spaghetti and meatballs. Most of them with chicken and gnocchi soup, breadsticks and a drink.
Another thing that I was also intent on was to try out the side dishes. Beyond pasta, Olive Garden is known for their soup, salad and breadsticks. And you can bet I tried them all, except for Zuppa Toscana because of its sausage content and my irrational, yet ironic, hatred for the bastard child of pork, beef and spices. Again, I soon resorted to getting my favorite, the chicken and gnocchi soup (gnocchi is basically pretentious dumplings).
Now on to the money. The true cost of the Pasta Pass is not $100, as Olive Garden and the media have claimed, and you wouldn’t be able to break even after 10 meals (one pasta bowl meal starts at $9.99) as many media outlets claim. People forgot to factor in taxes, drinks (which for the first time this year was NOT covered with the Pasta Pass), toppings, gas and time. Setting aside the difficult to calculate opportunity costs, the monetary costs are both higher and lower than what is claimed. Let me explain. I paid $107.75 for the Pasta Pass, and paid on average $3.20 for drinks (I made a conscious effort to keep my tips private) and ended up spending close to $300 for the eight weeks, which I tracked via spreadsheet for the first six weeks. I was too tired to finish the job and I apologize, though I did take advantage of every cash back deal that came my way. Still, the $300 I spent in conjunction pales to the over $900 I would have paid if I paid the regular retail price. Plus, I broke even in 7 meals and not 10 because the toppings cost extra, except for Pasta Pass holders, toppings were still included. I would buy the Pasta Pass again from a purely monetary perspective.
One fringe benefit that I enjoyed was the company. Contrary to popular belief, I tend to be very private and withdrawn when I’m not in school or at work. I usually eat alone and frequently. Though, once I got my pass, a lot of friends wanted to come with me as I went to Olive Garden to see how the whole thing works. I got to eat and hang out with people I don’t get to eat with very often. So, having those conversations with friends over a plate of pasta adds a certain intangible value to the Pasta Pass, that I refuse to price out, especially because they usually were the ones who paid for my drink!
All things considered, the Pasta Pass was a unique dining experience that I won’t forget. I got to enjoy pastas and soups that I don’t get to enjoy all that often, leftovers for lunch for days, got to dine with friends, and expand my social media portfolio. Will I buy it again? I’m not sure. Each year, Olive Garden has reduced what the Pasta Pass covers, and I’m afraid that next year it will just be the pasta and sauce, not toppings, and I enjoyed my meats. Will I recommend it to others? You bet. The Pasta Pass is a true event that everyone should have once in their lives, just like Nevada Football having a winning record.