Food

“I’m Not Going to Lie, I Went Every Other Day”

An interview with someone who survived Olive Garden’s Never-Ending Pasta Pass.

A feast of various pastas from Olive Garden or whatever Pasta Pass branding they have out.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Olive Garden.

Now that it looks like MoviePass’ glorious reign is coming to an end, it’s time for another pass to take its place. A new pass. A better pass. A … pasta pass? In the fifth year of their Never-Ending Pasta Pass promotion, Olive Garden, everyone’s favorite mall parking-lot chain trattoria, has volunteered to fill the pass-shaped void in our hearts, allowing 1,000 of us mere mortals to purchase 52 weeks of unlimited pasta, soup or salad, and breadsticks for the low price of $300. Never Ending Annual Pasta Passes will become available online on Thursday, Aug. 23 at 2 p.m. EDT, but only for an hour. According to Market Watch, “The passes have sold out in seconds in years past.” For the unlucky who don’t manage to snag a year’s worth of marked down carbs and sauces, over 20,000 eight-week Never Ending Pasta Passes will also be available for purchase.

To find out how life-changing unlimited pasta can be, I talked with Julia Laughlin, who loves the faux-Tuscan villa magic of Olive Garden so much that the restaurant gifted her a seven-week-long Never Ending Pasta Pass in 2016.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rachelle Hampton: Have you been paid by Olive Garden to promote the infinite pasta pass?

Julia Laughlin: Literally nothing, absolutely nothing. They followed me on Twitter after I tweeted about them and I consider that payment.

So how did you get the pasta pass?

It’s literally the most random thing. I just tweeted how much I loved pasta and how Olive Garden is right down the street from me and I was like, I eat there all the time, I wish I could eat there every day of the month. And they messaged me on my Twitter! They said, “Hey, we realize you love us! We want to send you something cool.” And I was like, OK, yeah sure, someone’s DM’ing me on Twitter asking me for where I live, that’s fine. But it’s Olive Garden, so I’ll tell them everything. About a week or so later, a pasta pass arrived in my mail and I’m like, oh my God, this is the best day of my life!

What was your first reaction when they gave you the pasta pass?

I think I legitimately cried. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I thought they were going to send me a T-shirt or something, like supporting their brand. But they gave me free pasta for a month so I’m like, oh my God, I’m crying, there’re so many emotions going around right now. It was crazy to me.

That is incredible. How often would you say you went to Olive Garden during the month you had the free pasta pass?

I’m not going to lie, I went every other day. I was asking people, hey, you want to go out to lunch? It’s free drinks for the whole table plus I get free food. [Ed. note: The current program does not include free drinks.] I’d always say I’ll tip generously since I don’t have to pay for my food, thanks Olive Garden. I literally went every other day and people were like, yeah, Julia, Olive Garden, free pasta, we completely understand, let’s go.

So all your friends were super supportive?

Yes, oh my gosh, they know how much I love Olive Garden.

When would you say your love for Olive Garden began?

Well my mom always liked cooking at home, and I always said my favorite food was pasta. And I think one day we went out to dinner with my grandma, and she picked Olive Garden. This was maybe 2007 or so. And I was like, OK I’ve never been there before, and my mom was like, they have pasta, and I was like, OK, sold! So we went there, and I fell in love with their breadsticks. Those are a deep nostalgic feeling for me, those breadsticks, and I just love the smell there, and I’ve just been going for 10-plus years because there’s not only like a family connection, but their food is awesome.

Yeah, those breadsticks are definitely iconic.

Yes, yes, yes, I always bring some home.

Wait, so do you get the breadsticks and salad with the pasta pass?

I think the breadsticks and salad did come with the pasta pass, and the soup.

Oooh. What were your strategies for maximizing your pasta consumption?

Hmm, that’s a good question. I would say if you get free pasta for a month you want to get the most out of it that you can, preferably go multiple times a day, every day. I mean it was a free pasta pass for a “never-ending pasta bowl” so you could get as much as you wanted. So I just say, keep going until you can’t eat no more and bring some home, so you don’t have to travel to Olive Garden every time you want Olive Garden pasta because they will give you that.

Hold on, you can even take pasta home?

Yeah, you can take as much as you ask for home. If you ask for 10 bowls, I’m sure they’d be like, um, no. But if you ask to take a serving home, they’d be like, sure. And of course, it’s a little bit smaller than your first serving, but it’s more pasta that you didn’t pay for, so take it.

Would you get multiple types of pasta in one sitting?

Oh, of course! I needed to try every combination possible, I don’t know another time I could’ve done that. I can confidently say that I’ve tried every single combination of pasta Olive Garden has.

Could you give me a ranking of the pastas?

That’s a hard one. Spaghetti is a classic but that would have to be at the bottom for me because it’s basic. They have so many options. The corkscrews, the cavatappi they have, is my absolute favorite, and I always get that with the Five Cheese Marinara. I got the pasta pass before I was vegetarian, and I would always get the chicken on top, and it was just the perfect mix. The perfect mix.

Did you ever get sick of pasta?

Absolutely not. After 10 years of being like, can I go to Olive Garden every single weekend of my life, I’m not sick of it yet. I don’t think a month of pasta every single day could make me sick of it.

How does Olive Garden pasta compare to other pastas?

There’s something about their sauces that just taste so much better than anyone else’s. And they always have their pasta cooked perfectly. I don’t know how they do it! If I make it at home, it’s either undercooked or slight overcooked and just not as satisfying. But whenever I go to Olive Garden, it’s always perfect and it’s that craving I had in the back of my mind, completely satisfied, like, yes, this is what I wanted. And also the place just smells good, with all the food and spices all around. It’s the atmosphere and the lighting and you get to sit at this nice place and eat your craving food.

What would be your advice to the people who buy the new annual never-ending pasta pass?

You have to love pasta a lot, don’t get me wrong. If you only casually like pasta, occasionally a breadstick, it might not be the thing for you. You have to love pasta—and love Olive Garden pasta—in order to have this pass fully used, to get the most out of the pass. You need to go as often as possible, get your favorite food, and not pay for it. It’s also convenient because it pays for the drinks for the whole table and breadsticks and salad so everyone would be like, OK I don’t have to pay as much and then there’s Julia over there with her free pasta, I guess that’s OK. I think it was around $100 when I got mine, I would have totally paid $100 for that. It easily pays itself off.

Update, August 23, 2018 2:04 PM EDT: All pasta passes sold out within four minutes.

A purple tile card reading "Sorry, all annual pasta passes are sold out."