At about this time last year, Olive Garden unveiled its newest tactic to bring customers back and create a buzz around the company: The Never Ending Pasta Pass. The chain offered 1,000 passes for $100 that would allow diners to order as much pasta, Coca-Cola sodas, soup or salad and breadsticks between Sept. 22 and Nov. 9. While the pass was a hit, selling out in a little over an hour, customers were annoyed about how quickly they were gone. The promotion also didn’t do much for sales, as even though they saw slight profit increases, it was due to higher prices, not more visits.
Despite the issues with the promotion, Olive Garden decided to bring the pass back this year, and offer an additional 1,000 family Pasta Passes, which were priced at $300 and lets cardholders bring up to three guests. Jose Duenas, the company’s executive vice president of marketing, said the attention the passes attracted last year shows people are still interested in the chain, and the promotion is a way to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Never Ending Pasta Bowl.
However, the passes sold out even faster this year (in less than one second!) and customers were undeniably upset. People took to Twitter using the #pastapass hashtag, and later on #pastafail, to express their disappointment in the chain, and dissatisfaction with the consolation 10% coupon. One user, @kylelarnold, said,”This whole #pastapass process was like putting one breadstick at a table of ten people,” and another, @Zachanner, said, “I tried to get a #PastaPass the second they were on sale and they were sold out… is this some sort of cruel joke???” To ease some of the frustration, Olive Garden said it will give out a few more passes on social media over the next couple of weeks.
While some may see the pass as a failure, Olive Garden is happy with the results. Spokesman Justin Sikora says, “The response reinforces the incredible passion our fans and guests have for the brand.”