Olive Garden Passes Sell Out Despite John Oliver’s Criticism

Business Insider reported yesterday that Olive Garden restaurants had sold out their annual Never Ending Pasta Passes in less than a second.

“For $100, the passes offer seven weeks straight of unlimited pasta, breadsticks, salad, and Coca-Cola beverages.

The chain sold all 2,000 passes, including 1,000 that extend the unlimited pasta offer to an entire family.”

In August of this year, John Oliver, on his HBO series Last Week Tonight, talked about a nearly 300 slide presentation from activist hedge fund Starboard Value that savaged Olive Garden’s business practices. Later covered by USA Today, the report included criticism of Olive Garden’s overuse of salad dressing, low alcohol sales and, perhaps most surprisingly, its practice of not using salt when boiling its pasta in order to get a longer warranty on their pots.

Oliver’s coverage, which can be seen here, included a mock Olive Garden ad which likened the restaurant to a “pot museum.” John Oliver also referred to their pasta as excrement, though he used a much stronger term. Being on HBO offered Oliver considerably more freedom with his language than his past gig, filling in for John Stewart as host of The Daily Show. Among other criticisms were that Olive Garden’s pasta was “mushy and unappealing,” their fried lasagna bites were “barely edible,” non-authentic Italian fare, and their practice of serving vegetarian lasagna with chicken made absolutely no sense. It should come as no surprise the report claimed customer satisfaction with Olive Garden was consistently low.

Oliver’s show has been praised by some media outlets (such as The Atlantic) as an activist program that’s as much, perhaps more, than a mere comedy show. Oliver’s program on Internet neutrality inspired so many people to post comments at the FCC that it crashed part of their website. His coverage of televangelists, which briefly included operating his own church, caused a flood of complaints to the IRS. John Oliver was brave enough to travel to Russia and secure an interview with Edward Snowden. He’s attacked bail practices in the U.S., FIFA, crumbling infrastructure and even launched a failed effort to save five Russian space geckos.

Olive Garden claims many of the issues raised by the Starboard report are already being addressed. And Oliver certainly won’t drive them out of business. Right now, customers are more upset at the chain being for being too popular, rather than their flagging sales. As usual, John Oliver continues to be a potential thorn in the side of not just Olive Garden but anything he sets his disapproving gaze on.

UPDATE: It appears I got the date of Oliver’s episode wrong. That will teach me to mistake a YouTube fan page for the official page. It actually aired last year.

[Photo courtesy of HBO]