11 Things OIive Garden Employees Wish You Knew

olive garden logo
olive garden logo - Scott Olson/Getty Images

For fans of Olive Garden, the employees are like the keeper of the golden keys. Or the golden breadsticks, really — because that's why most of us go there. There is so much happening behind the scenes at the restaurant that they wish we knew. Yes, the unlimited salad is unlimited, but there are certain ways to customize it (for free!) that you might not know about. You are unlikely to ever find a bandaid in your food at the Italian chain because of a strict colored bandage rule. However, if you try to stage a food safety issue, you might get a free gift card out of it for your trouble ... yet it's not one you truly want because it essentially blacklists you from the good graces of every Olive Garden in your area. Speaking of gift cards, if you have a spare $1,000 lying around and want to invest it in a future filled with breadsticks and pasta, you can score an amazing discount just for thinking ahead.

Whether you eat at Olive Garden all the time or only frequent the chain occasionally, one thing is for certain: Most servers are on your side and want you to have a great time dining there. But, there are still a few things they wish you knew before you come in to make the experience good for them and perfect for you.

Read more: The 101 Best Pizzas In America

You Really Can Eat As Much Salad As You'd Like ... Just Be Sure To Tip

bowl of salad
bowl of salad - Facebook / Olive Garden

Some places that advertise themselves as "all you can eat" might put a time limit on your consumption so you don't put them out of business. Yet Olive Garden doesn't ... at least for the salad bowls. "The salad really is unlimited refills," an employee revealed to Buzzfeed. "I once brought a table their salad, only to have the person dump the ENTIRE bowl on their plate so they could hand me empty the salad bowl back and ask for another one before I left the table." So if you want to grab a table at Olive Garden for lunch and eat bowl after bowl of salad well until dinner, you technically can do it.

There are a few caveats, though — just so the waitstaff doesn't end up hating you. Employees wish you knew that if you plan to stick around and take advantage of any of the restaurant's "unlimited" offers, you need to plan to leave a big tip, too as you are preventing them from turning over the table. "The ABSOLUTE worst thing was the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion. I literally had a customer get 20 refills. The customer was in my section for three hours and didn't tip," another employee shared with the outlet.

Vegetarians Can Still Eat Any Of The Meat Dishes For A Discount

bowl of minestrone soup
bowl of minestrone soup - Esseffe/Getty Images

The great thing about Italian food is there are plenty of options to enjoy a great meal without eating meat because of all the carb-based dishes. So if you are vegetarian or vegan and want to dine at Olive Garden, there is a small hack for you to get a great portion of food when you take away the meat. Many Olive Garden locations will not charge you for double the vegetables if you skip the meat option — as meat is listed as an upcharge on the menu.

So if you are ordering fettuccine alfredo but don't pay extra to add in the chicken, ask your server for a larger portion of the broccoli, instead. While the servers will not likely give you an entire side of vegetables for free, adding more to an existing dish is typically something you can get away with. In fact, some of the items on the menu, like the minestrone, are already vegan-friendly.

The Soul, Salad, & Breadsticks Promotion Is Never Worth It For The Servers

soup and breadsticks
soup and breadsticks - Facebook / Olive Garden

This meal is a great deal for guests. It is one of the cheapest things on the menu and you can get your money's worth as the final portion size is entirely up to you. However, servers tend to hate it — if you aren't tipping well, that is. "Honestly, in terms of soup and salad, it really depends on how much you get, how much you run your server," an employee shared on Reddit. "It's one of the most labor-intensive things on the menu for a server while being the cheapest thing on the menu. Think about it, a full refill is basically doing twice the work of another table."

To keep things fair, most servers wish you would not tip based on percentage, but rather on effort. "At the time [I worked there] it cost $7.25. People would give you $10 and tell you to 'keep the change,' which is a good tip percentage-wise, but the amount of stress and running was not worth it," one shared with Buzzfeed. There's a lot of foot traffic and even food prep on the part of the servers, so be sure to make it worth it for them.

There Isn't A Rewards Program, So Stop Asking

five cheese pasta bake
five cheese pasta bake - Facebook / Olive Garden

As fellow Olive Garden superfans, we totally understand the desire to enroll in a rewards program for the chain. They are pretty common these days (Chick-fil-A has one! So does Chipotle!) and are great value for frequent diners. Yet the Olive Garden doesn't have a rewards program at all, so servers wish we would stop asking. The closest thing Olive Garden has to a rewards program is an eClub, which is a digital newsletter.

The chain advertises the opportunity as a way to "be the first to hear about news, events, specials, and more." The best bit is that when you sign up, you also immediately get a voucher for a free appetizer or dessert. Although this is just a one-time thing, it beats nothing at all. However, we all have our fingers and toes crossed for some sort of bonafide diner's program in the future. Eat 10 breadsticks, get 10 free — or something else amazing like that.

You Can Make Most Of The Dishes At Home

Olive Garden takeout
Olive Garden takeout - Facebook / Olive Garden

If you can't make it out to eat, don't worry — it's easy to make plenty of the most popular Olive Garden dishes at home. And no, we don't mean simply making a spaghetti bolognese. We mean make it exactly as the chefs at your favorite restaurant do. The chain allegedly released heaps of its original recipes online during the initial COVID-19 lockdowns. You can find options like a delicious vegetable lasagne or even the famous Alfredo sauce. The released menus also include Pizza Rustica, spinach and artichoke dip, and many more fan favorites.

These recipes have since disappeared from the official Olive Garden website, so there is no way to determine if they are 100% authentic — except perhaps, through taste testing when making them at home. You can find them here if you'd like to try your hand. If you want to recreate the iconic salad at home, remember that the famous Olive Garden salad dressing has been available at most grocery stores for well over a decade.

The Kitchen Is Actually Nice And Clean

chefs in a kitchen
chefs in a kitchen - Burke/triolo Productions/Getty Images

Knowing the food prep area is clean can help contribute to the overall enjoyment of eating somewhere. Olive Garden employees want you to know that the behind-the-scenes of the restaurant is more than up to par. "It was the cleanest kitchen of any restaurant I've ever seen. Honestly, I was shocked," one employee said to Buzzfeed.

They weren't alone in thinking this, either — other employees said the same thing. "I was shocked at how rigorous the safety and cleanliness standards were. You weren't even allowed to wear a beige — light-skinned color — bandage for fear it would fall off and into food, since we made our own salads and soups and some desserts." You might breathe a sigh of relief to know that it's unlikely you will ever find a bit of used first aid in your food. "They had these bright red bandages that you had to wear at work if you got cut, or already had a cut to ensure it would be seen." Typically, the band-aids that food workers wear are bright blueto make them easy to spot. But red or blue, you can rest easy knowing that Olive Garden employees are trained to take food safety seriously.

The Cooking School For Chefs Isn't What You Think

glass of wine with hills
glass of wine with hills - Andreyes/Getty Images

The Olive Garden cooking school in Tuscany is the stuff legends are made of. It's kind of exciting to think that a classically trained chef prepared the food you might be eating. However, the employees at the restaurant chain have to dampen your parade just a bit. "It was more like a hotel, during the off-season, with a restaurant on site," a former manager shared on Reddit. "They would let the Olive Garden come and stay in all the rooms (small place — maybe 20 rooms) and they would use the restaurant (closed to the public again off-season) as a classroom for maybe an hour here or there and talk about spices or fresh produce for a minute before going site seeing all day." So it wasn't a cooking school at all, but rather a vacation for chefs to get a small taste of Italy. In fact, Olive Garden's menu doesn't necessarily follow Italian standards, and the way it serves its pasta is actually a big no-no in Italy!

Our own writers once waited in a customs line behind a large group of Olive Garden employees at the Rome airport in 2014. "Yes, we really do come to study here and yes, you really can win a trip," a jet-lagged woman said when asked about her backpack and uniform. However, we can't help but think she wasn't being entirely truthful, as it now sounds like "studying" was more just like "seeing the sites."

There Is A Set Amount Of Breadsticks And Salad

Olive Garden Breadsticks
Olive Garden Breadsticks - Facebook / Olive Garden

Everybody loves the Olive Garden breadsticks, but employees want you to know there is a set amount per table. Although they are bottomless, if you want more at a time, you have to ask! "Your first basket of breadsticks is brought out with one stick for each person at the table plus one extra (because it's usually uncomfortable for someone to take the last one)," an employee told Buzzfeed. This is why your breadsticks never come out until after you put in your drink order. Even if you just get a glass of water, the employee now knows how many people are sitting at the table and can send out the correct amount of food.

This also applies to the salad. "The number of olives, tomatoes, etc. on your salad is directly impacted by the amount of people at your table," another insider shared with the outlet. "In addition, sometimes they're weighed so that the right amount of lettuce for your party is in the bowl." So if you are someone who loves olives, banana peppers, or even that sweet iceberg lettuce that is always on offer — ask for more upfront. If you don't, you're stuck with the generic formula.

Big Complainers Get Different Types Of Gift Cards As Compensation

Olive Garden mints
Olive Garden mints - Facebook / Olive Garden

If you have a bad experience at a restaurant, you can often complain to the manager for some sort of compensation for it. At Olive Garden, the employees want you to know that "Karens" get a different type of card, so every employee who sees it in the future will know what kind of customer you really are. "If you make a complaint and are given a gift card by the restaurant, the gift card actually looks different than a standard gift card purchased as a gift," an employee revealed to Buzzfeed. This is because sometimes guests will raise a fuss just because they expect to get something for free. By passing out these special cards, managers can warn staff at any Olive Garden nationwide that this is a problem customer without having to make a press release or keep a list of problem people.

It can help staff make the best choices when resolving customer conflict, as they know who they are dealing with. "If a manager sees them with this special gift card, and hears them complain about something, they usually won't reward them with free food or a gift card again," the employee continued.

You Can Get Seasonal Dishes All Year Long

chicken florentine
chicken florentine - Fanfo/Shutterstock

The menu at Olive Garden changes throughout the year, depending on what is in season. However, if you have a dish you love that is on a limited-time menu, there is no need to worry about not being able to order it once the promotion ends. All you need to do is know the ingredients in your dish of choice. When you order, simply describe what it is that you want to eat. If the chef has all the ingredients in the kitchen, they can typically whip something up for you.

For example, chicken fettuccine Florentine isn't always on the menu. However, the dish is easy to make when described in simple terms. All you need to do is order "chicken fettuccine with sauteed spinach" and you will be treated to a nearly identical dish. Keep in mind that there might be small upcharges for personalizing dishes in this way. Your server will be able to give you the most current price at the time of ordering.

Buying Gift Cards In Bulk Can Save You Money

olive garden exterior
olive garden exterior - Scott Olson/Getty Images

If you love eating at Olive Garden and know you will be there often, you can buy gift cards for an automatic discount. The official Olive Garden FAQ section rewards loyal fans with a discount for giving the company money ahead of time. If you spend between $500 and $999 on a gift card, you get about 5% off the price in credit. If you go the distance and spend $1000 or more, you can walk away with a discount of 10%.

Companies tend to offer discounts like this for larger gift card purchases because it essentially provides an interest-free loan for them. Well before you redeem your card for some ravioli, Olive Garden has access to the money you spend as it chooses. In some cases, customers might not even spend the entire card balance, leaving the company with a pile of forgotten "free money." However, for Olive Garden super fans who plan to spend the entire thing, employees want you to know that this is a great way to always secure a discount on your meal.

Read the original article on Daily Meal