When brands make a big deal about an item leaving, it seems inevitable that it’s going to be back sooner than we think. There’s the Mexican Pizza, which is now back “forever;” Popeyes’ Cajun Rice, back for a limited time; and the impending return of the Choco Taco, which Klondike itself is now seemingly petitioning for. So when Olive Garden announced that the Never Ending Pasta Bowl was likely not returning after dropping off menus in 2019, we were suspicious. And now, with Olive Garden dropping teasers all week on its website and newly minted TikTok page, we suspect that the fan favorite may be on its way back.
What is the Never Ending Pasta Bowl?
Back in 1995, Olive Garden introduced the Never Ending Pasta Bowl as a limited-time deal that allowed customers to eat as much pasta, salad, and breadsticks as they could for just $6.95, according to Food & Wine. The deal came and went as a promotional offering over the next 24 years, last on the menu in 2019 going for $10.99. Considering that a typical plate of pasta for dinner at Olive Garden goes for $12.99 to as high as $22.29 (according to Chicago pricing), that’s a deal even if you only make it through one bowl, let alone push it to the limit. It makes sense then why Olive Garden CEO Ricardo Cardenas said the promotion had a “negative impact” on the chain.
In the last two years of the promotion, Olive Garden sold a limited number of Pasta Passes instead of offering it to every customer. Those passes sold for anywhere from $100 to $400 a piece (in 2018, the chain sold 24,000 of those passes, Insider reports). Anyone with a pass could eat as much as they wanted over an eight-week period at Olive Garden, and people certainly put it to use: One man who got the pass in 2018 ate 140 Olive Garden meals in 56 days, ultimately saving $2,164.89.
What we can deduce from Olive Garden’s clues
While representatives from Olive Garden neither confirmed or denied this speculation, Olive Garden SVP of marketing sent The Takeout this statement:
Recently, Olive Garden has been focused on getting back to the core of what our loyal guests expect from us–never-ending, abundant, craveable Italian food at an affordable, everyday value. Our upcoming menu announcement reflects that focus, and we’re thrilled to show our loyal guests that we’ve heard them loud and clear about what they want when they dine with us.
Never-ending. Abundant. Affordable. The clues are all right there.
Today, Olive Garden posted its first-ever TikTok, zooming in and out of its various pasta items with the words “Something is coming” playing across the video. The TikTok page’s bio links to a countdown clock on Olive Garden’s website with the header “It’s back…”
Whatever is coming to Olive Garden, it’ll be here on October 3. On that page, you can sign up to become an “insider” and get the scoop (or maybe just more clues) before anyone else.
Those clues alone are enough to make me think it has to be the Never Ending Pasta Bowl. It’s one of the chain’s biggest promotions to be “back,” and the way the TikTok loops replicates bowl after bowl after bowl of unlimited pasta. But as a member of the food media, I also received a separate, more concrete clue: a mini chrome bowl emblazoned with both the Olive Garden logo and an infinity sign, plus a fork with the number 25. The promotion previously ran for 24 years, and if it returns, it will be back the 25th. The infinity symbol, well, that speaks for itself.
Nothing has been confirmed by Olive Garden itself, which is keeping quiet on the subject as it continues to push out teasers this week. I’ll keep an eye on TikTok and wait for the Olive Garden countdown to come to an end, but if I’m wrong, well, I’ll eat my own hat. And if I’m right, we’re all about to eat lots and lots of Olive Garden pasta very soon.