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Suggestions on Surviving the Olive Garden? (moved from Manhattan Board)

Hi fellow chowhounders,

I'm quite thankful for my job and thankful that my company will actually be taking its employees out for a holiday lunch this year. However, the restaurant that has been chosen is the above (the Olive Garden in midtown).

I have never been to one of these places before and personally have been revulsed by their steamy gooey portrayals of apparent food in their TV commercials.

I really can't skip out on this. Does anyone have any advice on how I could order and still get a decent meal?


Glendale is hungry...

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  1. ouch.

    your company could spend the same amount and get a decent meal.

    i have never been to an olive garden, so sorry i can't suggest anything.

    2 Replies
    1. re: travpard

      Hey I would be thrilled with the Olive Garden considering we get a sandwich ring and a shrimp ring.

      I would go for soup and salad. It is a safe bet.

      1. re: punkgirl107

        Their salad is really horrible...iceberg lettuce and maybe if you are lucky, you'll get a piece of grape tomato. God, I mean, how can you mess up a salad but when I went in November (had to go for a co-worker--it was her choice) that's what it was. But that's what I had, soup (pasta fagioli) and a few bites of salad.

    2. Chicken Parm entree is respectable. The pasta dishes are very heavy on sauce. Soups are OK. Salads good. You really cant go wrong with Soup and a salad. Breadsticks are awesome.

      1. I agree. The unlimited soup/salad/breadsticks won't blow you away, but it's a safe bet. And it's unlimited so you can eat until you are full. It's honestly the only thing I ever eat there (even for dinner) if Im visiting the burbs and my companions refuse to go somewhere else:-)

        1. I agree with the other posts. Soup/salad/breadsticks are the way to go. If you're looking for an entree, stick with traditional spaghetti joint picks (chicken parm or their "capellini pomodoro") and you'll be okay, as long as you don't expect too much.

          1. chicken parm is my recommendation, too. it'll come with a pasta side. just go with the simplest red sauce. and round out with salad.

            sympathies, appycamper

            1. Is this punishment for doing a poor job?

              1 Reply
              1. re: Clams047

                Hi Clams,

                Me wishes it were—then t'would be a good laugh! Ar dee-arr arrr!! Sadly, methinks it has more to do with the barometrically low level of sophistication of those who would chose the venue for others ('tis below Davey Jones locker I fear!).

              2. Try the pizza. It's not bad.

                1. The sausage & bean soup is pretty tasty. I'm not fond of the breadsticks -- just mushy crumb and garlic salt to me. The salad dressing is decent, quality of the greens can vary. I agree about sticking with simple spaghetti joint entrees.

                  1. Many thanks to all! I now feel ready for battle!

                    No matter what the outcome, I plan to report back. If I don't, you'll know I didn't make it. (Look for the tragic story on NY1 News)

                    Life's an adventure!


                    Glendale is hungry...

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Glendale is hungry

                      yes, i can truly see how thankful you are for your good fortune.

                      1. re: BastedEggs

                        Actually I really am thankful.

                        No, Olive Garden would not be my choice but just the very idea that we will be taken out at all IS a good sign with regard to the economy (last year there were no holiday parties or lunches of any kind for anyone and I survived three rounds of layoffs).

                        Thankful yes, yes I am.

                        1. re: Glendale is hungry

                          My DH's workplace did a potluck, and they're actually doing pretty well business-wise. They used to do destination lunches with the rest of the day off.

                          At my office's holiday party, we toasted "here's to having a job" multiple times!

                    2. I agree the sausage/kale soup is not that bad. But OMG in Manhattan of all places, they're taking you to OG? I could see that here in my Midwest enclave where everyone loves chains (except me), but dang, there must be about a million other choices that would have been better in Midtown than OG. Let us know how it works out.

                      1. Oh, poor you. There is an OG across the street and I have a client who just adores it. Anyway, last time I went, heels dragging, I had a special that was pasta with beef tips in a creamy sauce. It was actually not bad.

                        Usually I stick with the soups.

                        1. Avoid the linguini with white clam sauce. It's basically glue. How they could botch such a simple dish, I don't know. But it is horrific.

                          1. Order the soup and salad and breadsticks and you will enjoy your meal.

                            1. a great attitude goes a looooooong way at the olive garden. just try to roll with it and have fun. it's on par with a tv dinner - but enjoy your seatmates and have a fun time.

                              as others have said - soup/salad/breadsticks are ok. chicken parm ok. don't go for anything unusual.

                              1. Another vote for soup, salad and breadsticks. Someone upthread said that the salad is all iceberg lettuce, but BOTH times I've been to Olive Garden (yes, I'm an old pro) the salad has been a pretty decent blend of vegetables. My biggest pet peeve is the fact that I'm sure that a single serving of soup, plus salad, plus breadsticks gives me my recommended MONTHLY intake of sodium!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Jetgirly

                                  This is true escpecially if you are trying to adhear to a 2,000 mg a day sodium intake. You can find somethings that are less sodium than others. I always use dietfacts.org

                                  here is Olive Gardens http://www.dietfacts.com/list.asp?bra...

                                  Also I'm actually proud that olive garden offers their nutriecian info some chains do not.

                                2. Another vote for soup, salad, and breadsticks. Our local OG has a pretty decent salad. Romaine and iceberg, tomatoes, red onion, black olives and croutons with the house dressing. I love the soups! Not every meal can be top-of-the-line gourmet-perfect, so maybe you'll enjoy it a little bit, anyway. (smile)

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: bayoucook

                                    A vote against the breadsticks. I think the appeal is all you can eat, but most Italian places will bring all the bread you want. How much bread can you eat anyway?

                                    1. re: James Cristinian

                                      I don't order it for the all you can eat; I usually eat one or two breadsticks. I'm saying it's just one meal out of thousands and I can live with it.

                                  2. I'd choose any corner pizza/pasta joint over Olive Garden, and would probably get a better meal at half the price. But, seeing as how the boss is paying, leave the chowhound attitude at home and relax. It's not really that bad. Just keep it simple. Chicken parm and spaghetti & meatballs are decent; the soup and salad are ok. Slosh it down with a few glasses of chianti and you'll be fine.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Vladimir Estragon

                                      OG isnt that bad....At least your company is appreciative enough to treat everyone to dinner.

                                      1. re: medRare28

                                        So true. My job has an annual dinner, but charges us $32/per person if we want to attend. Not surprisingly, I have yet to attend the event.

                                    2. I know they are premade and frozen but I kind of like the portabella ravioli. They serve it in a pretty fatty sauce but I think its decent. :)

                                      1. never been to an OG but you are asking how to "survive" the experience? thats openminded. Its not gourmet, or even Italian, but they do some things ok. Stay away from the red sauce however, I usually do one of the garlic cream sauces like the chix scampi or something like that.... and you have to ask for a little extra garlic (to suit my taste anyways). The salad dressing is really good, and the dry breadsticks can be made pretty good by a little alfredo sauce. DOnt miss the zuppa toscana, best thing on the menu.

                                        1. Countdown to OG

                                          I'm about to face the music. Will report back with my experience.


                                          for now, Glendale is hungry...

                                          1. So Glen, what happened? There really is an og in Manhattan? Funny

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                              There's lots of chains in Manhattan

                                              1. re: BiscuitBoy

                                                Yes Biscuit,

                                                There is an Olive Garden—in the middle of Times Square!

                                                I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to report but it’s been busy—what with Ashura, Boxing Day, and all that Kwanzaa hubbub going on.

                                                My co-workers and I all had a very fun time at the Olive Garden with a lot of lively (yet important!) conversations about Octomom, Balloon Boy, and whose accent is the funniest—Cleveland, Brooklyn, Long Island, Rhode Island—but, I digress.

                                                The food, ah yes, the food. I decided to give the place a fair shot so I ordered the “Tour of Italy” which allowed me to try smallish portions of three things: chicken parmesan, fettuccine alfredo, and lasagna (it comes with salad and breadsticks).

                                                Also, some of the other members of our party ordered appetizers for everyone to share: fried ravioli, stuffed mushroom caps and fried mozzarella wedges so I got to try those as well. Then I split an order of tiramisu for dessert.

                                                Of all of these things, the chicken parmesan was the best. It was crispy, had good chickeny flavor and wasn’t dry. Next came the mushroom caps—juicy with not-bad flavor and the ravioli—obviously not freshly made but still crispy/chewy and okay. The tiramisu was unamazing but acceptable. The salad was, well, salad—but the components looked fresh.

                                                The fettuccine was on the bland side but still edible. The lasagna was not. The lasagna was absolutely vile. It was drenched in the worst red sauce I have ever tasted. Was this made from tomatoes or gastric acid? Blecch!!! A restaurant that brands itself as Italian yet can't make a red sauce that's palatable? Appalling.

                                                The breadsticks were flavorless elongated pillows (even a fellow co-worker who likes the Olive Garden was disappointed with these). The chewy wad of fried mozzarella just tasted like grease and if I’d tried I could have blown a bubble with it á la Bazooka Joe.

                                                All in all though, I’m really glad that I had the chance to have a few laughs with my co-workers. Do I plan to go to Olive Garden ever again? No. Would I go next year if there was another holiday lunch? Yes, but I would eat beforehand and go just to enjoy the company. I have no desire to eat the food.

                                                I can see where people living in certain parts of this country would end up eating at a place like this since it may be their only opportunity to eat vaguely “Italianesque” food. However, to choose to go there in a city like New York where there are lots of other infinitely better choices that are no more expensive is rather peculiar. Hmm…. I don’t get it.


                                                Glendale is hungry...

                                                1. re: Glendale is hungry

                                                  A review of Olive Garden would not be complete unless there was mention of something absolutely vile.

                                                  We're all glad you lived to tell your experience.

                                                  1. re: Glendale is hungry

                                                    Many were worried of you wherabouts in deleted posts. I'm glad you're back. I got a gift card for Christmas, sounds like chicken parmesean. I have contended on other posts that their breadsticks were bland at best, stating that real Italian restaurants will give you all the good bread you can eat, not their sub-standard offreings.

                                                    1. re: Glendale is hungry

                                                      Believe it or not, when I was in school it was such a big deal to have a place to go like the Olive Garden, that we dressed up for my birthday and braved very bad February weather (Ohio) to go up to the big city of Cleveland so we could dine there. I used to always get the tour of Italy and thought it was fantastic, and the "free cake on your birthday" thing was just amazing to me. We were really poor and anything free was a big bonus, and there was always food leftover for the next day. I thought it was fabulous. There truly was NO place to eat Italian in my town, literally. Good pizza, sure, but nowhere to have Italian food.

                                                      I have had to eat there a few times in recent years for events like yours, and I cannot fathom what I enjoyed. It all tastes terrible to me now.

                                                      1. re: rockandroller1

                                                        Hi Rock,

                                                        I totally believe and understand. Not only about tastes maturing but about the big deal thing. When I was really young I lived in such a podunk town that the nearest fast food of any kind was McDonalds 30 miles away. Going there was considered a treat - like once a year on your birthday kind of treat.

                                                        Then, the year I started high school they built a McDonalds right in the center of town. My older brother got his first job as a bun warmer literally months before the building was completed and was considered cool. On opening day it was such a big deal that the entire marching band (more than 100 people!) gave a special concert in the parking lot for just the franchise owner (one person!).

                                                        Among other songs, we played,

                                                        You, you're the one,
                                                        You are the only reason...
                                                        (an ancient McDonalds jingle)

                                                        When I was old enough I applied for a job there but was turned away. Really. Working there was still considered cool even years after it opened and it was THE place to hang out for all teenagers.

                                                        Ah adolescence... C'est la vie de la dork, non?


                                                        Glendale is hungry...

                                                        1. re: Glendale is hungry

                                                          We had a BK in town and used to go there as a "special" meal for a birthday or particularly good set of grades.

                                                  2. I have a friend (who's Italian) who insisted that I break down and come to OG. Against my better judgment, I broke down. This was about two years ago.

                                                    There wasn't really anything very interesting to drink. I vaguely recally gulping down a potion that tasted like Country Time lemonade and cheap vodka. And I know Country Time lemonade and cheap vodka well, having imbibed dozens of times in college days.

                                                    Soup tasted and smelled like something found in the bottom of the dishwashing machine. Salad dressing was laden with HFCS and citric acid.

                                                    The entree reminded me of something from a school lunch program. I ate the mealy, dry bread sticks -- with butter -- for my meal.

                                                    I opted not to have coffee. After all, I was trying hard to drink myself into a coma, and didn't want any stimulants to get in the way.

                                                    The OP was extremely, extremely brave, and should be commended for going above and beyond the call of duty on behalf of the company. The OP's description of the OG experience brought back memories of my one and only time. Glendale is hungry, you're a very, very kind person.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: shaogo

                                                      Your friend who was italian wanted you to go??? That is so wrong. Was it the manchester one, because that one is awful.... yet always packed...

                                                      1. re: kubasd

                                                        manchester, orange, west farms, always packed, always a wait....A mystery to me as there are so many good Italian restos around here

                                                    2. I am a NYC tour guide and tell the tourists that the casual dining chains in Times Square are far more spacious and comfortable than most local NYC restaurants. I tell them the food may not be as good, but the seating, the HVAC, and the service level will be as nice, if not nicer, than in the suburbs.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: BigGuy

                                                        Hi BigGuy,

                                                        I don't disagree with anything you said as it pertains to the Olive Garden in Times Square. It was open and airy, comfy and the wait staff was quite nice.

                                                        But the food was, in general, disposable and NOT cheap.

                                                        Unless a restaurant is freezing (or boiling if it's summer), positively putrid or filthy I'm willing to forgive a lot if the food is good. Heck, for good food I'd even put up with restaurant staff crazy to the point of throwing plates against the wall in frothing fits of rage (just think of the stories!).

                                                        With just a little bit of research and planning in advance, any tourist, thanks to the Internet, can find a good meal anywhere in Manhattan that's better than what I had at the Olive Garden. Unless someone really likes this stuff and is terrified of all things unfamiliar (then why come to NYC at all?) there's no excuse for going to the Olive Garden in this city.


                                                        Glendale is hungry...

                                                        1. re: Glendale is hungry

                                                          I think you hit the nail on the head there Glendale. There are people who don't come to NY for the food, they are the tourist who could care less where they eat, the ones who know that if they are ok with the Olive Garden in Topeka (just an example folks) that they can go to the one in NYC and have the same experience. They come to NYC to see the buildings, the number of people on the street, to see a broadway show, to feel the energy and not the food. That's the whole point of chain, so that folks can go to one in whatever city they are in and know that the experience and the food will be what they are used to.
                                                          Personally, I and most people on chow, love taking a chance and trying new things, but not everyone is like that.

                                                          1. re: roro1831

                                                            Hi roro,

                                                            I see your point. How sad it is though to think that there's an entire legion of people who now believe, thanks to the Olive Garden, that a red sauce is supposed to taste like something you might tan leather with.

                                                            It reminds me of how I used to HATE Mexican food (for years!) until I had something better than Ortega or Taco Bell. Now Mexican is among my favorite cuisines.


                                                            Glendale is hungry...

                                                      2. A few years back my company took us to Olive Garden. The consensus of the people were happy with it. I honestly don't mind it much especially if the company was paying for it.

                                                        I liked the Portbella mushroom ravioli again not hand made fresh but well cooked and the sauce the pair with it is actually decent.