The Pasta Pass Is a Bright Spot in This Dark World

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Do you ever return home after a very long, very exhausting, very emotionally draining day and immediately trudge to the stove, boil a large pot of salted water, and make a bowl of pasta?

No, I’m the only one? Okay, you can stop reading now — goodbye!

If you are still with me, though, it seems as if your body also has an autopilot pasta-eating setting that you choose to activate when times are … times. Well, my friend, times are most certainly times, and thanks to the unrelenting news cycle that continues to drum on 24 hours per day, seven days per week, you may find yourself seeking out light-hearted activities (like eating pasta) more than usual to distract yourself. Might I recommend a few additional self-care tactics?

  • Go to bed at 6:30 p.m.
  • Sign up for a yoga class and remain in extended child’s pose for its entirety.

What’s the Pasta Pass?

Those who have a coveted Pasta Pass can enjoy eight weeks of unlimited combinations of pasta shapes, sauces, and proteins — in addition to breadsticks, soup, or salad, for just one flat fee. (Although these elite passes are already sold out to the general public, that does not mean that you cannot have endless pasta; you can still visit an Olive Garden and pay for a Never Ending Pasta Bowl starting at $10.99 per visit.)

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Pasta Pass promotion. To mark the occasion, Olive Garden upped the ante by offering 1,000 Annual Pasta Passes for $300. These new year-long passes became available in conjunction with 23,000 eight-week long Pasta Passes for $100, celebrating the 23rd year of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion.

To put it into context, these passes sold out 2,280 times faster than the latest iPhone X and 60 times faster than tickets to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z in concert. (Do Americans like Olive Garden more than Queen Bey?)

I recently dined at the Times Square Olive Garden, along with my fellow editors, Lisa Freedman and Ariel Knutson, the latter of whom was bestowed with an Individual Never Ending Pasta Pass, valid now thru November 18, 2018. I can say with certainty that I’ve never been more jealous of anything in my entire life than I am of the olive green credit card inscribed with Arie’s name. It’s just so … official.

Finding Self-Care in an Endless Basket of Breadsticks

We entered NYC’s only Olive Garden on 47th Street and Sixth Avenue in Times Square at 1 p.m. on the very first day of Pasta Pass eligibility. The only way to describe the restaurant is that it was an absolute haven (and by that, I mean it was empty). Devoid of the same crowds visible only a window away, there was no wait for a table at this establishment.

Upon being seated, we immediately divulged to our waiter that we were in possession of a Pasta Pass and his eyes lit up with both wonder and disbelief. We were the first of the season. Let the hunger games begin!

We ordered breadsticks (duh), and salad (duh), and bowls of pasta (duh), each with a different pasta shape, sauce, and topping. Arie ordered cavatappi with limited-edition spinach-artichoke sauce, topped with Italian sausages; Lisa ordered angel hair with Alfredo sauce; and I chose fettuccine with traditional meat sauce.

Our waiter left us alone to enjoy these first heaping servings, which we later agreed must be a part of Olive Garden’s waste-reduction strategy. (The less pasta we are able to order, the less pasta is left uneaten.) We slowly powered through our first orders, sampling each other’s combinations, and all came to the same conclusion: We could not possibly eat any more.

But for the sake of a challenge, we ordered a second round to share of a pasta/sauce combination we hadn’t yet tried (rigatoni with five-cheese marinara). Our waiter looked disappointed in us, and honestly, I was too. The dish arrived and, lo and behold, it was half the size of our first dish. Our waiter explained, this is their way of letting customers try all the pasta they can stomach without wasting epic amounts. Had I known that every subsequent dish was going to be smaller, perhaps I would not have felt so defeated after dish number one.

I wish I could say that we ate more pasta, but the truth is that between the three of us, we could not stomach more than a bowl-and-a-half each. I left with a food baby to rival all food babies and Googled “What Is Whole30?” the moment I got home.

What the Pasta Pass Showed Me About America Today

So why did upwards of 24,000 Americans clamor to get their hands on pasta passes with more fervor than Beyoncé fans trying to score tickets to her stadium tour? I think the answer is simple. If you happen to get your hands on one of these Castelvetrano-hued credit cards, there is nothing stopping you from eating all of the pasta that you can physically handle from now until mid-November. In these incredibly uncertain political times, having control over your body is not something to take for granted.

Yes, I just equated eating fettuccine with traditional meat sauce with reproductive rights — it’s a metaphor, okay?

At a time when many Americans are yearning for something to hope for, Olive Garden has wisely positioned itself as a place where empty promises won’t fly — unless you let them. Along with the Pasta Pass comes a major level of personal responsibility and expectation management. You have three options: You can fail to live up to them, meet them in the middle, or soar far above them. This all depends on how hungry you are. At Olive Garden, the stakes are pasta; outside of Olive Garden, everything is at stake.


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