Just about everyone knows what to do when sitting down at an Olive Garden: Load up on the fluffy free breadsticks (and perhaps buy extras) and then dig into the hearty pastas, which are available in 391 combinations, from meatballs and spaghetti with traditional marinara to gluten-free rotini and Italian sausage drowned in a creamy mushroom sauce, plus vegetarian options. So no one’s left out.
But for the truly ardent Olive Garden pasta fans, however, once a year the chain offers the Never Ending Pasta Pass, a $100 allowance for all the pasta you can consume in eight weeks. This year’s 23,000 unlimited pasta passes sold out, as usual, in less than a minute online. In addition to the regular card, the chain offered the new Annual Pasta Pass for $300, handing it out to 1,000 customers.
“It was our fans who helped us come up with the idea for the Annual Pasta Pass because they have been telling us how sad they are when Never Ending Pasta Bowl comes to an end after eight weeks,” an Olive Garden spokesperson told Money, referring to a promotion when any customer can get endless noodles with soup or salad and breadsticks for $10.99 during the same time as the regular pasta pass run.
With the pass, though, you can grab any pasta option you want along with the sides whenever in the allotted window at no cost beyond the card—though it is tied to you and doesn’t work for others or takeout. (And, of course, you should always tip your server.)
“Some guests use their pass three times a day, others use it once a week,” Olive Garden added. “Last year’s Pasta Passholders used their passes an average of 10 times over the eight-week promotion.”
To make it really worth it, a customer should eat at Olive Garden more than once a week with their regular pasta pass. But with an annual pass, even assuming a constant $10.99 price (which isn’t the case outside of the promotion period), if you ate there once a day for 365 days, you would come out $3711.35 ahead on a $4011.35 bill. That’s more than a 15-inch MacBook Pro worth of free pasta.
Olive Garden provided Money with data about its pasta passes and where they’re most used. California, Florida, and Texas bought the most pasta passes both this year and last year, with California coming out ahead.
Meanwhile, customers cashed in their pasta passes the most last year at restaurants in Provo, Utah, near Salt Lake City; Times Square in Manhattan; and Irvine, California, located in Orange County. It’s hard to say why these cities floated to the top beyond the fact that they’re clearly heavily trafficked by people lucky enough to snag the passes.
Here are the 10 restaurant locations across the U.S. in 2017 that had the most customers redeeming their passes.
- Provo, UT
- Times Square, New York, NY
- Irvine, CA
- Waterford Lakes, Orlando, FL
- Stonestown – San Francisco, CA
- American Fork, UT
- Chino Spectrum Towne Center and Marketplace, CA
- San Bernardino, CA
- Milpitas, CA
- Santa Clarita, CA