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17 Secrets Olive Garden Doesn’t Want You to Know

Updated: Jan. 25, 2024

Here's everything you've wanted to know about your favorite breadstick-serving restaurant.

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Olive Garden, lively, family-friendly chain featuring Italian standards such as pastas & salads, with a full bar.

The chain was founded in Orlando, Florida

Although Italian food and culture inspired Olive Garden, the actual restaurant was founded in Orlando, Florida in 1982. General Mills, the company that owns brands such as Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, launched the chain. Later, the company also started Darden Restaurants, Inc. which owns LongHorn Steakhouse and Yard House, among others restaurants. These are the secrets your restaurant server isn’t telling you.

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Close-up of human hands cooking in a kitchen. Friends having fun while preparing fresh salad. Vegetarian, healthy meal and friendship concept

The Tuscan cooking school isn’t what it seems

Yes, Olive Garden does send a select few chefs to Tuscany. But they don’t attend an actual school as some sites report. According to eater.com, the experience is more relaxed than a real cooking school.

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Fresh sesame bread rolls in a box at the city market
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They almost limited their breadsticks

In 2014, one Olive Garden investor presented how much money the chain loses on unlimited breadsticks. Thus, they proposed limiting the cult-favorite.

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several baguettes wheat bread in wicker basket

There is, however, a rule of thumb for how many breadsticks come in your basket

Olive Garden does have a policy on breadsticks. Typically, a server is supposed to bring one stick per person plus one extra for the first basket. After that, the rule of thumb is one breadstick per person. Here are the sneaky menu tricks that influence your order.

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african american waitress taking order on notepad
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You won’t get away with only trying to eat the free breadsticks

Try as you may, servers have a system to deal with people trying to scam the restaurant. Servers are not allowed to drop the second basket of breadsticks until someone orders. Other reports claim servers aren’t even supposed to bring one basket until customers actually order.

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technology, people, lifestyle and communication concept - man with smartphone sitting on sofa at home
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You can get tons of freebies by downloading their rewards app

The Olive Garden App is worth downloading for people who frequent the restaurant. One perk includes free appetizers with entrees. Plus, if you sign up for Olive Garden rewards, you could get a free birthday dessert or breadstick dipping sauce.

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Close-up view of unrecognizable waitress holding terminal and male guest paying for meal with modern smartphone

And you can redeem them at other Darden owned restaurants

Rewards are redeemable at any of the six restaurants owned by Darden. Find out the weirdest restaurants around the world.

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Soft focus, shallow DOF a receipt with hand written total amount and tipping from Vietnamese restaurant. Paper invoice with suggested gratuities/tips on plastic tray, open pen on top of marble table.
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If you split the bill, you can use two coupons at once

Splitting the bill seems worth the hassle when you can use two coupons instead of one. These are the most overpriced foods sold in restaurants.

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leisure, food and people concept - group of happy international friends eating at restaurant table
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The best time to eat is weekdays from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m.

Between lunch and dinner, you’ll get the best bang for your buck at Olive Garden. Their Dinner Duo deal is an $8.99 entree plus never-ending salad and breadsticks.

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putting pasta farfalle in boiling water. spoon.
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They don’t salt pasta water

Olive Garden, an Italian-inspired restaurant, doesn’t salt their pasta water. The restaurant overlooks this fundamental pasta-cooking rule because of salts impact on pots. According to the Wall Street Journal, putting salt in boiling water could compromise the warranties on the pots.

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Chocolate and raspberry cake with cranberries, dessert in restaurant

Some of the food is frozen

The soups are made in-house daily—but all the desserts are frozen. The pasta, however, is made to order. The restaurant only uses microwaves for heating dipping sauces and warming desserts. Otherwise, everything is pan fried, deep fried, or grilled. Find out why you need to cook your pasta in red wine.

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Cook book put on a kitchen table with a wooden spoon in the foreground. Kitchen is visible in the background.

The menu is not entirely authentic

Olive Garden is an Italian-inspired restaurant, so all of their meals aren’t necessarily authentic. In 2012, the restaurant admitted that some of its menu items aren’t found in traditional Italian cookbooks. These are the little etiquette rules you should follow when dining at a restaurant.

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close up of woman finger with menu choosing dishes at restaurant

You can seriously customize your meals

Olive Garden has a huge menu, but you can easily finagle the menu to create your own dish if you can’t find what you want to eat. For example, it is still possible to order discontinued items like Chicken Fettuccine Florentine—if the restaurant has the right ingredients on site. Other swaps, such as changing ravioli fillings, are little-known hacks that could make your order even better.

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food and drink wine

You can bring your own wine

Bring your own wine and pay a fee at some Olive Garden locations. This “corkage fee” is usually about $7. Beware, only some locations allow outside bottles. You could also sample up to three wines for free before buying one of their bottles.

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Strawberry italian soda on wood table with black polka dot tablecloth.
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They serve Italian soda, even though it’s not on the menu

Secret menu items don’t get much better than Italian soda. Although Olive Garden took this off their menu, you could still order one with the flavors from the Olive Garden lattes for about $4. 

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Wine glasses in a row and corks on wooden table against grey background
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They offer a free wine tasting

Olive Garden is very proud of its award-winning wine program. They have over 25 different wines that range from “light and sweet to dry and full-bodied.” Guests over the age of 21 are encouraged to sample a complimentary one-ounce portion of any of their wines to see if they like it.

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Marilyn Hagerty, Lays Marilyn Hagerty samples a Lays potato chip during an interview with The Associated Press in New York. While Americans might get squeamish at the thought of their favorite snacks being tweaked, what works in the U.S. doesn't work everywhere. Tastes can vary greatly in unexpected ways in different corners of the world
Mark Lennihan/Shutterstock

A food critic un-ironically praised Olive Garden and got famous

Marilyn Hagerty is a local newspaper columnist for the Grand Forks Herald. In 2012, her review of a local, newly-opened Olive Garden went viral, becoming an instant sensation. She has since continued to review other restaurants. If you’re looking to save some money the next time you go out to eat, try these tips to get free food from your favorite restaurants

[Sources: Olivegarden.com; reddit.com; mentalfloss.com; thekrazycouponlady.com]