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An Open Letter to Olive Garden

Dear Olive Garden,

Okay, so I'm the first to admit that I'm not a huge fan of your cuisine. Nearly every dish is a repackaged version of every other dish. However, I don't think it's as terrible as other chains. I'll go there when those around me want your all-you-can-eat salad and breadsticks.

I want to let you know that I'm very disappointed at your decision to pull the more complete nutritional menus off of the table which let a patron know about the calorie content, sodium content, fat content, and carbohydrate content in exchange for a simple calorie count on your main menu.

I have to say that when you did offer this information, it was frankly appalling about how horrendously unhealthy some of your dishes were, but it did allow me to order something healthier. I'm sure people were not ordering the unhealthier (and likely more profitable) appetizers which is why you pulled the information.

I would like you to make this information available again.

DrBruin (and, yes, I'm a physician).

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  1. I am not a fan of Olive Garden either. Their breadsticks and salad are veryyy salty. I only go when someone pretty much drags me there, once a year. Preach on Doctor!

    4 Replies
    1. re: FlavaInYaEar

      I SO agree with you!!!!
      My Mother and I tried the Just Opened OG for lunch, our first and I will say last, experience. We order the soup/salad/bread stick and a panini, ALL were so salty, we could not eat it. Credit to them, when we mentioned to our server that we felt it was that, he discreetly sent over the manager, who offered us other selections.
      At check time, we were told, there was none. Well done, we left almost all the food on the plates. I think it is hard to get salty salad.

      I also commented to the manager that the menu did not show the prices for the MANY offerings of beverages they had, you had no idea what a coffee a soda or whatever would cost.

      VERY bad sneaking additional $$$$ onto the check.

      1. re: Quine

        Can't say I've ever seen a menu with the price for soda/tea/coffee/etc. on it.

        1. re: invinotheresverde

          Really? You must frequent very different places... almost every menu I've seen has the price for such things on it.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek

            Prices for drinks!!!! - I've not looked recently, but I know (historically) that they are so expensive, I generally order beer or wine. More bang - oops, I mean, buzz - for the buck.

    2. Well said, Dr.B, Not only are the dishes repackaged versions of other dishes, they make up some Italian sounding name for it. "Pastachetti" ???? I don't believe there is such a dish in Italian cuisine.

      4 Replies
      1. re: mucho gordo

        I just ate there a few hours ago and had the "Pastachetti"??? I probably wouldn't have even noticed it had I not received the first ever email with a Whopee! $4 off coupon for 2 - yes that's right, $2 a piece. But the coupon had a picture of the "Pastachetti"??? on it, so it seemed I was compelled to go, all else being right that I was in the vicinity.

        The dish had a sausage w/sauce on one side of the dish, and the other side were the small envelope sized pastas filled with a four-cheese combination. It seemed similar to their other pastas, whether they be considered Italian cuisine or not.

        Yes, I agree, we always drink lots of water later in the evening. It's hard to say whether from being away from home without water for so long, or too much salt, or a combination of both.

        But as far as calories, fat or otherwise, at Olive Garden, I guess that depends on how much you eat of what you are served. The bread sticks never make it to our table, we always eat the salad, but I almost never eat more than 1/3 of the entree.

        1. re: Rella

          Some people rave about Olive Garden's breadsticks. I've never understood that - they're like elongated dinner rolls with some garlic salty stuff on top.

          1. re: Fromageball

            Agree. We haven't eaten there in a couple of years probably but have always seriously liked the soup (always get the Tuscan with sausage, potatoes and kale) and the salad but the breadsticks are a total non-event for me. Bob eats his AND my share.

            1. re: c oliver

              dip the salty garlicky breadsticks in the salty alfredo sauce and they are quite good.

              yes I know how bad that is for me, no reminders necessary!

      2. I agree with you, Dr., but the simple fact is that most people just don't give a damn about the nutritional content of the stuff they eat, especially when they eat out. They care more about the all-you-can-eat (whatever) for $4.99. Whether it is at OG or Old Country Buffet, All-You Can-Eat = Value.

        I read an article recently (sorry I can't find it just now) that said publishing nutritional info made no difference in ordering habits. I guess those who care already kind of have a feel for what is less bad (notice I didn't say "better") for them when eating out.

        FWIW, eating out in general is worse for you than eating in for those who care. How many famous chefs have you heard say, "Fat equals flavor."?

        4 Replies
        1. re: al b. darned

          More emphasis on what darned said.

          Making an unsubstantiated claim that it was pulled because people didn't order profitable stuff is irresponsible and unprofessional when studies on the matter so far showed that it doesn't make a difference (This was done in a northwest taco chain).

          Frankly, people need to give their peers more credit. Individually (group being a whole different topic), we're not stupid. We know the numbers. We make choices.

          I choose to eat meat that's not cooked to well-done. Health wise, that's plain stupid since it puts me at risk for a whole bunch of things. I choose to take that chance. In fact, I insist on it - I have a right to be stupid.

          1. re: al b. darned

            Hi Al, here's an article for the LA Time you should read. It references a few studies that publishing nutritional data has actually lead to changing in habits... even if the changes are modest.


            1. re: DrBruin

              U rah rah rah C rah rah rah L rah rah rah A rah rah rah..
              you get the rest love that amazing school and their basketball, sorry, OT but I couldn't resist :)

              1. re: iL Divo

                It's actually called the 8-clap: U---C---L---A! UCLA fight fight fight!

          2. I think the posting of that info is meaningless. As al b. darned wrote, it doesn't seem to make a difference. More importantly, IMO, is that everybody already knows what is basically healthy and not. I remember an Oprah Winfrey show from probably 15 years ago where she said she probably knows the calorie and fat content of most foods and it didn't/doesn't stop her from eating too much of the "wrong" things.

            14 Replies
            1. re: c oliver

              More importantly, IMO, is that everybody already knows what is basically healthy and not...

              That's me! I am what could be charitably called a "full-figured guy." During a recent medical exam, the doctor suggested nutritional counseling. I told her the truth, "I know what to do, I just don't usually do it." Often with me, it's not what I eat, it's how much...and I don't even go to "all-you-can-eat" joints.

              1. re: al b. darned

                << Often with me, it's not what I eat, it's how much>> Exactly!

              2. re: c oliver

                it's a rare day when you & i aren't on the same page, but i've gotta disagree with you here. do you know what else Oprah has said? she's a food addict....which explains *why* the nutritional information doesn't guide her choices. and it also means that those who possess similar knowledge but have healthier relationships with food might actually use it to make better choices than she does.

                the posting of that information *isn't* meaningless to people like me who *do* use (and appreciate) it when we have access to it.

                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  it's also not meaningless to our hypoglycemic and diabetic friends and relatives. I have one who loves these places and due to location and limited mobility not many other options. at the grocery store we pore over the salt and fat content (among other issues) and I cook a few meals for the freezer, so I know the concern and knowledge is there, just not the resources to make an informed decision.

                  1. re: hill food

                    A number of years ago we were traveling in England with another couple. The woman is a very " brittle" diabetic, uses an indulin pump. She was not a stupid person but day after day, she knowingly or unthinkingly made bad decisions. But I suppose if it helps anyone than I can't really be opposed. And maybe I'm not opposed, just not sure it accomplishing anything or much. x,c

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I do agree with the idea that many don't give a s^^^. and spelling it out won't defer them from their choices. so yes a high percentage of the time it's most likely an exercise in futility. I think my annoyance is that the info was once offered freely and then pulled.

                  2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    You and hill food make excellent points and I don't disagree with you. MY only point is that I don't believe that many people make bad decisions cause they don't know. Do you, ghg, really need to read the labels to know? And then there was my late MIL who was constantly touting this or that food as being "healthy" as she ate Claim Jumper "TV dinners" night after night.
                    PS: The minute you disagreed with me my first thought was OMG I must change my mind :) You're a powerful person. Thanks.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      as always, i'm honored and flattered :) but i wasn't trying to change your mind - you're certainly entitled to your opinion, and you're absolutely not wrong in your assertion that some people who "know better" still make unwise choices...i was simply pointing out that it's not a categorical/universal truth. believe it or not, i do really need that info sometimes, because of course i know the general nutritional content of the *unadulterated* ingredients, but you really never know what these places are doing to them! case in point, i was horrified the first time i saw the numbers for some of the items on Chili's "Guiltless Grill" menu. 6 grams of fat (3 saturated) and 500 mg sodium in a SIDE of "steamed" broccoli?! seriously?

                      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        6 grams of fat (3 saturated) and 500 mg sodium in a SIDE of "steamed" broccoli?! seriously?

                        Hmmm, maybe I need to rethink my position. I would have foolishly assumed "streamed broccoli" meant broccoli that had been steamed and nothing else. When I was in the Navy, the chief always said, "You know what happens when you assume?" I guess it still applies 30 years later.

                        DrBruin, can you add my signature to the letter.

                        1. re: al b. darned

                          Ya know, abd, that broccoli story IS pretty convincing, isn't it? I'm gonna flip-flop also.

                          ghg, have you ever considered running for political office??? Nah, you're too honest :)

                        2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          That "steamed broccoli" side is exactly the kind of thing that makes nutritional labeling a good idea. Maybe you'll figure out that it's laden with fat once it lands in front of you (the pool of butter should be a clue), but by then you're already ordered it.

                          I agree with CO that most folks won't use this information. I don't eat dinner out very often, so when I do it's all about the taste and to heck with the consequences. (That focus on eating pleasure also explains why it's been more than a decade - maybe two - since I set foot in an Olive Garden.)

                          But there are people who want this information and will use it. Since it's already available, it seems like a really questionable move to take it away.

                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                            @abd, yes, assuming *anything* about restaurant food is dangerous, which is why i appreciate it when places provide the information. of course i still have to ask a zillion questions about gluten and soy to ensure my safety, but that's an entirely different matter.

                            @c, my honesty wouldn't even be the biggest problem. let's just say that i have so many skeletons from my younger, more foolish years, it requires a rather large walk-in closet to accommodate them all ;)

                      2. re: c oliver

                        Agreed. I am a pretty healthy eater for the most part, but I have weaknesses and when I go out to eat I'm not thinking about the fat/calories in what I order. I try to pay attention to when I feel full and then I don't over-eat, no matter how ridiculous the portion size.

                        1. re: Fromageball

                          One of the pleasures of being married to the man I'm married to is that our tastes in food are in sync. Pretty much 100% of the time we share whatever it is we're eating. And that's sometimes even a stretch. This morning was a classic example. A "skillet" with three scrambled eggs with onions, mushrooms and diced ham. Melted cheese on top. Two sausage links and two strips of bacon. Interestingly they did have the calorie count listed for every dish on the menu. (A small Western chain)

                      3. I have to say that when you did offer this information, it was frankly appalling about how horrendously unhealthy some of your dishes were, but it did allow me to order something healthier.

                        Are you saying that without the nutritional info you wouldn't be able to make an educated estimate as to what items are heathier than other ones?

                        Certainly you could deduce that a fettucine alfredo entree would be higher in calories than a pasta marinara dish, no?

                        I would dare say that for someone who cannot make such a judgment call, their problem in choosing healthy items when dining transcends what nutritional info is provided on a menu.

                        28 Replies
                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          And I would dare to disagree. There was a recent thread about some of the unhealthiest FF items on menus across the board, and - while most of them were obviously unhealthy, it was STUNNING to find out how HIGH some of their caloric impact was.

                          And I don't eat at such establishments, but my mind was blown nonetheless. There are "healthy" options at FF chains that are nowhere near healthy, despite the fact that they contain vegetables and/or salads. The "steamed broccoli" ghg referred to was a good example, I thought.

                          1. re: linguafood

                            I didn't say "healthy" as in an absolute sense.

                            Only more healthy in comparison to other items on the menu.

                            My point was that if a person could not figure out that the Pasta w/Marinara is lower in calories and fat than a Fettuccine Alfredo, then they need to be dining with a personal dietician before complaining about lack of nutritional labeling on menus.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              But who the fuck knows how much sugar is in the marinara, or how much butter. Maybe the calorie count is almost identical?

                              Anyway. No water off my back, since I don't tend to eat at chain restos.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                I'm not sure I agree. Using your example, Marcella Hazen's simple tomato sauce is a really easy way to add half a stick of butter to your dinner. The typical Alfredo isn't necessarily any less caloric. And the side of "steamed broccoli" described above - without nutritional info, would you really guess that it's got more saturated fat and sodium than an order of McDonalds' fries?

                                1. re: alanbarnes

                                  And the side of "steamed broccoli" described above - without nutritional info, would you really guess that it's got more saturated fat and sodium than an order of McDonalds' fries?

                                  But it's more than just sat. fats and sodium.

                                  If given the choice, I would choose the steamed broccoli (even slathered in butter) than an order of fries if I was choosing the healthier dish.

                                  Sure, the broccoli might have more sat. fats and sodium, but it's also got more fiber and vitamins and minerals than french fries.

                                  Whether something is healthier than another dish can't be limited to total fat, sodium, calories, etc.

                                  Plus, unless you have a preexisting hypertension condition, then there's no reason to avoid or limit salt intake ... but we don't need to open up that Pandora's box all over again, do we?

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    okay ipse, but what about someone who IS hypertensive or watching their sat fat intake, and forgoes a traditionally salted or deep-fried item - like fries - in favor of a *seemingly* safe alternative - like "steamed broccoli?" if there's no nutrition info on the menu and *nothing* in the description to indicate that it's either buttered or heavily salted, the person ends up with something they can't/shouldn't eat.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      I agree that the broccoli (even buttered and salted) is a healthier choice than an order of fries. And I don't watch my salt or fat intake, either. (Although if I don't start watching my total caloric intake, I may have to stop watching my toes.)

                                      My point is that fat and sodium content are relevant to some people, and a person can't always guess what items are going to be "healthier" (whatever that person's definition of the word might be) from a menu description.

                                      Sure, it's a safe bet that the garden salad with oil and vinegar on the side is a better bet than the extra-large order of bacon cheese fries with ranch dressing. But there's a whole lot of territory to cover between those extremes, and providing information that allows someone to choose between two items that are a little closer together on the continuum isn't a bad thing.

                                      1. re: alanbarnes

                                        Agreed, alan.

                                        But the nutritional info that I've seen on menus do not indicate the health benefits of broccoli -- i.e. fiber, vitamins, etc. Most of it is pretty basic (as we've noted calories, carbs, fat, sodium, etc.).

                                        It helps for a limited group of people (e.g. those who suffer from hypertension) but if you really are sodium-prohibitive, then you should know that eating out is essentially one big land mine, where you are wearing nothing but big, clunky shoes.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          to append ipse's comment: big clunky snowshoes or scuba flippers, Young Frankenstein boots with similar coordination.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Just a couple of points based on many of the previous postings....

                                            1. Calorie count is NOT the best way to determine the nutritive quality of a dish. It's better than no information. For people on fat, carb, and/or sodium restrictions, the additional nutritional content data would help them guide their decision when they are dining at such an establishment. If someone needs to be on a low carb diet but they are not salt sensitive, they can choose accordingly.
                                            2. Healthy options are not always healthy. Thank you GHG for the broccoli example. Great example! At a certain chain restaurant (blanking on the name at the moment), their turkey burger wasn't a healthier than their hamburger. At Subway, for some people, you may be surprised to know that the Italian white bread offering may be a healthier option than their 9-grain, Omega-3 bread offering.
                                            3. When you compare two dishes, it may be obvious which one to pick between spaghetti marinara and fettuccine alfredo, but try picking between a spaghetti with meat sauce and the spaghetti marinara with meatballs at Olive Garden? Believe it or not, one of those two dishes is actually "healthier" (but since I couldn't see the nutritional data again on my last visit, I couldn't tell you.)
                                            4. I was basically just disappointed that Olive Garden, who already has this data, has changed their policy on sharing the data. I figure it's a financial driver that caused the policy change... whether it was a change in ordering habits of their unhealthy (and, perhaps, more profitable) dishes or just bad press.
                                            5. I don't think anyone in here knows how long you have to study how the effect posting nutritional data on a menu has on eating habits... It's such a novel concept, that it would probably take years for the public to embrace this idea. While the one study that an earlier posted mentioned didn't show a difference in eating habits, the relative success of the "Eat This, Not That" book series hints that there is a public interest in this topic.
                                            6. As health care costs spiral, primarily driven by weight-related diseases IMHO, I strongly believe that this nutritional data should be readily available on every menu to give everyone the opportunity to make healthier decisions when they are dining out. Even if a fraction of the dining public ate healthier, this would translate into significant health care expenditure savings.

                                            1. re: DrBruin

                                              At a certain chain restaurant (blanking on the name at the moment), their turkey burger wasn't a healthier than their hamburger.
                                              that would be Red Robin...and Ruby Tuesday's isn't much better.

                                              1. re: DrBruin

                                                1, 2, 3, 4:
                                                Those that want to know, can easily find out:
                                                But, it's not on the menu! Well, since I'm one of those weirdos that go out of my way to limit mobile devices, this may be an issue, cept it's not since I wouldn't care either way. But, I find it extremely hard to believe that a table would lack a person with a web-capable device.

                                                5. Study says this. You say... Based on... Since the study actually has real data, I'll go with the study instead of speculation.

                                                6. False. How many people do you know that frequently dine at places like the Olive Garden? Most of us don't. Most of us eat more often at home. As for significant savings in health care with minimal interference, that would be to concentrate on those that receive the most care, which are usually those that cannot eat out. And, yes, there is a study on this and even a program that intentionally focuses on health care "hot zones" to limit overall costs.

                                                Then there's the whole thing about the food being significant until you get enough nutrients, at which point physical activity becomes the greater factor.

                                                1. re: ediblover

                                                  We're all entitled to our opinions, Ediblover. Bad studies are worse than expert opinion (case in point, the false study that the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, aka MMR causes autism... it's a blatant lie, which has been disproven in many legit studies and debunked as a forgery, yet it has caused irreparable damage). A single study on a taco chain in one region for who knows how long on, of all subjects, human behavior, is not going to be rock-solid science. Anyhow, this is a food site... and we should get back to the food discussion.

                                                  I do want to thank you for the Olive Garden's website nutritional data link. You're not the only one without a phone that can surf the web. My cell phone makes really good phone calls and I only need to charge it once a week. As for the nutritional data availability, I think it needs to be made available at the restaurant...where you palce your order. It's somewhat difficult to memorize a whole list of nutrition facts for every single restaurant you eat out at.

                                                  By the way, as a practicing internal medicine physician and as a diner that occasionally eats at Olive Garden, I can tell you that plenty of people with significant health problems dine there with regularity. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. It's not a small segment. My issues with dining out is not limited to the OG, but it extends to all venues were people eat.... fast food, fast casual, fine dining, frozen foods, etc. Food often tastes good to people because it's sweetened, salted or full of fat. We're overdoing it in this country and we're seeing the same health issues pop in placed like Japan who are adopting "western" style diets.

                                                  Thank you again, GHG.... I thought it may have been Red Robin... I just remember taking my sister-in-law there.... and I was about to go to the default "turkey burger" when I read the nutritional data... and was surprised to find out that I should go with the regular burger (which still isn't super healthy). I also ask for their fries without salt. I'm sure I've added a few quality minutes to my life with that decision.

                                                  1. re: DrBruin

                                                    Plenty of overweight people dine everywhere. But, you don't know what % of their caloric intake is at home or out. For most of us, eating out is a treat. So, not only is it a small % of our diet, but it's one where we're trying to enjoy ourselves.

                                                    All this isn't taking account to the simple fact that most people know the numbers and basic health facts. People aren't clueless when it comes to these matters. But, we live in a society where freakin' gastric bypass surgery is popular - Basically, risking your life by going under the knife for a matter that's all about very basic self-control.

                                                    Overall, I see this subject as nothing more than unwarranted chain bashing. I'm not a fan of the garden (haven't been there in over a decade), but there are plenty of legit reasons to attack them and other chains than some silly numbers on the menu.

                                                    1. re: DrBruin

                                                      Doctors I've gone to seem to often site a 'bad study' and a 'good study' to prove their point(s). You are right when you say, "Anyhow, this is a food site... and we should get back to the food discussion." but only after you have interjected your cases into the conversation.

                                                      1. re: Rella

                                                        Rella - Anyhow, since they have the data, and they actually post it on their website, I think they should continue to make this detailed analysis available for patrons on-site to allow more motivated patrons to pick healthier choices based on their health needs.

                                                        Ediblover - I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree on this one. People are actually pretty clueless when it comes to calorie estimation and portion control. When you go to the OG or a Mexican restaurant next time, look around and see how many refills people get on breadsticks and chips, respectively. Even once weekly dining out, can lead to serious weight gain over the course of a year. For example, if you overeat just 500 calories when dining out once a week (which is less than 3.5 OG breadsticks) AND every other day of the week you eat the perfect number of calories for your activity level, you'll gain about 7-7.5 pounds a year. Additionally, most people have a tendency to eat what's put in front of them. I'm not sure why you're so offended by my request to have them to continue to offer the detailed nutritional data they've already calculated available at their restaurants in a print form.

                                                        1. re: DrBruin

                                                          For example, if you overeat just 500 calories when dining out once a week (which is less than 3.5 OG breadsticks) AND every other day of the week you eat the perfect number of calories for your activity level, you'll gain about 7-7.5 pounds a year.

                                                          I'd be willing to bet I exceed the 500 calorie count and overeat every time i eat out......which is more often than once a week and my weight has remained the basically the same for the last 10 years........

                                                          I'm offended by all food police ...

                                                            1. re: FattyDumplin

                                                              I've yet to understand the "+1" - what's up?

                                                              1. re: Rella

                                                                They're heartily agreeing with the previous post.

                                                            2. re: fourunder

                                                              Well, Fourunder... You obviously misunderstand the concept of "calories in vs. calories out." You are active enough to account for the additional calories you're eating when you eat out.

                                                              I'm not a big fan of the food police either. I don't think restaurants should be forced to limit calories in dishes or even be forced to post nutritional data (even though I think it'd be helpful for our country's health and well-being). I think as a consumer, if you have two restaurants and one has the data to help you eat healthier and the other does not have the data, you can influence the behavior of both restaurants when you make a decision as to where to eat.

                                                              I'm merely a patron who is requesting something back that they already offered. It's no different than asking your favorite restaurant to bring back one of your favorite dishes they took off the menu.

                                                              1. re: DrBruin

                                                                its very different because if they bring it back they might lose business whereas bringing back a menu item (least it be some endangered animal) would not.

                                                                1. re: kpaxonite

                                                                  That's not necessarily true kpax. If you bring back a generally unpopular dish, that could drive away business or tie up resources. If you bring back information that people want, that could increase business.

                                                                  1. re: DrBruin

                                                                    I obviously don't have any inside information, but I'm going to assume that the decision to take the info away is a strategic business decision... such that the benefit of putting the nutritional info in open view (like goodwill for consumers like yourself) is outweighed by whatever negative arises from doing so. I can't imagine they'd take this info away otherwise, since as you've pointed out (and I agree), it is generally good information for the consumer to have.

                                                                    Like I said, pure conjecture on my side. While I tend to believe in less regulation of businesses, I'm also a believer that businesses will try to exploit it as much as possible.

                                                    2. re: DrBruin

                                                      You're absolutely right, DrBruin, and I hope you won't relent on the pressure.

                                                      Dr. David Kessler, late of the Food and Drug Commission, says it's his greatest regret that he stopped before he got the requirement for that info to appear on menus as it does on packages of commercially prepared foods in the grocery stores.

                                                      People can ignore the info as they see fit but they can't make informed choices unless they have reliable hard facts at their disposal.

                                                      Perhaps there's an app? There certainly SHOULD be.

                                                2. re: ipsedixit

                                                  I think the Olive Garden is a very good "junk food" restaurant ( tasty, unhealthy, and something to partake in only infrequently, if desired).... much like Micky-D's...or candy... for that matter.

                                                  That being said, I think it would be nice for all chain restaurants to post the basic nutritional info on the menus. At least a customer could pick the least of all the evils if they CHOSE to. Personally, when I eat at Olive Garden (maybe once or twice per year) I go for the really high salt/high fat/ high everything foods because it is different -and therefore fun- for me. If there truly are people in the world that go to Olive Garden for a healthy meal....then at least nutritional info on the menu would clear that little misconception right up quick.

                                                  1. re: sedimental

                                                    Why stop with chain restaurants? After that broccoli story, I'd be interested in ALL restaurants ponying up.

                                          2. re: ipsedixit

                                            No, I have to call shenanigans on this one, ipse. Yes, if something is loaded with cream and white pasta, it's going to be a caloric time bomb... but sugar ends up in a lot of unexpected places, and oil does too—to the point where a simple portion of pasta with tomato sauce can be twice the calories it would be if you made it at home.

                                          3. I don't see how OG is any different to any of the chains in that same genre (think Applebees, Fridays, Chillis, Cheesecake Factory). You go there for a high fat high salt meal. You already know everything is a version of itself, covered in cheesy sauces etc. If you go occasionally and generally eat pretty healthily the rest of the time it makes no odds.

                                            I would personally find it more useful to write an open letter to your county school boards and start there, getting those pizzas, chips, ice creams and sodas off their menus and vending machines and going back to the old days where dinner ladies ran the cafeteria and there was one choice of hot lunch and you HAD to eat it.

                                            1. A couple of years ago when the CT legislature passed a bill requiring chain restaurants to post calorie counts, our then Gov. vetoed it because she said that everyone knows that it's obvious which foods are fattining and which are not. She should have checked out this list first:


                                              1. The world is not made up of foodies who read these boards. The world is made up of people who often don't know any better. I know HUNDREDS of people for whom Olive Garden is "get dressed up and go out for a special occasion" dining. The wait to get into Olive Garden on a weekend in my area can be 45+ minutes. The same thing can be said of Red Lobster, Outback, and On the Border for seafood, steak, and Mexican.

                                                There's also the "least objectionable" factor. When you are with a group of people and need to agree on someplace to eat, almost no one objects to Italian. He doesn't like seafood, and she doesn't want spicy, and he doesn't want to spend $20. Hopefully there is better Italian available, but not always -- and if you are traveling with a group you may not even know.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                                  Some reasons I go to Olive Garden:

                                                  There are hardly any restaurants to go to where I live that are of good quality and less than $100 for the bill.

                                                  I only go to restaurants when I'm tired of shopping and it's been long past dinnertime.

                                                  Olive Garden never has cost less than $35 for two. The only other optional chain here in this category for us is TGIF. Coupons make it almost never less than $40 for two. TGIF is the chain that we opt out for when we are fatigued enough to eat out. Yes, I've taken my own snacks (quality food from home) when I go shopping, but at the end of the day, snacks just don't handle it.

                                                  We don't wait for OG seating more than 5 minutes. We will go across the street to TGIF.

                                                  The least objectional factor in our case doesn't apply to the type of food; we like most everything.

                                                  Also, I've not seen anyone dressed up at the OG where I go. It is quite informal.

                                                  1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                                    I was responding to the statement "I don't know how they manage to keep customers." I didn't mean to suggest that for everyone Olive Garden is fancy dining. I was just giving my thoughts about why some people choose to eat there despite the fact that it is very bland, popularized food. My statement about the 45 minute wait was to give evidence about the popularity of the restaurant -- clearly if people are willing to wait that long they are not at risk of losing customers.

                                                    I shouldn't have used the phrase "don't know any better" the way I did. I didn't mean to suggest that Olive Garden patrons are ignorant or unsophisticated. I just meant that the ubiquity and simplicity of the menu makes Olive Garden accessible, if not authentic.

                                                    1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                                      I get you 2roads, I have plenty of relatives that know it's junk but choose these places over a mom'n'pop because it's predictable. ignorant, no. sad and boring, yes.

                                                  2. Nutritional info on a restaurant menu will send me home to my own refrigerator. When it comes to restaurant food, for me, ignorance is bliss. I know a lot of basic nutrition info, so in no way am I kidding myself - but with the evidence right in front of my face, I become paralyzed and can't order anything at all. Although I eat out rarely, when I do, it is a treat and nutrition, within reason, is not that much of a consideration. On the other hand, if I had a significant dietary restriction, I think that info would be very important to me.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: mamueller

                                                      I agree that when I go to a favorite restaurant for a treat or splurge meal I am not concerned about the stats.

                                                      But as someone who has done a lot of business traveling over the years, when you have to eat in these kind of places day after day you should pay attention and try to limit the damage.

                                                      1. re: pamf

                                                        Amen to that - it is a constant struggle when travelling

                                                      2. re: mamueller

                                                        mama you said it best.

                                                        how about a seperate insert menu so people can look if they want, or vice versa

                                                      3. I can see no reason why anyone would actually object to places being required to tell us what we're eating. I wonder if those same people object to grocery items carrying a nutrition label as well?

                                                        Take a peek at the salad from Olive Garden. 350 calories, 26 grams fat, 1930mg sodium. Even without dressing it carries 550mg of sodium. I never would have guessed it had nearly half a day's fat and almost my entire day's worth of sodium. I just checked the Good Seasons Italian dressing in my cabinet. A 2 tablespoon serving contains 320mg of sodium. It would take over a *half cup* of Good Seasons to add as much salt as Olive Garden is putting in their dressing.

                                                        Going with the McDonalds thing, a single portion of the side salad contains more sodium than 5 large orders of french fries.

                                                        11 Replies
                                                        1. re: ratbuddy

                                                          because restaurants want to make money not scare people away

                                                          1. re: kpaxonite

                                                            If what they are selling is actually scary, don't you think consumers have a right to know?

                                                            1. re: ratbuddy

                                                              its a fast food chain.... if a customer cant figure what that means (that its unhealthy) then no, I see no obligation to tell them....in fact, quite the opposite.

                                                              Survival of the marginally intelligent....

                                                              Im sick of people using chains to rationalize their shortcomings.

                                                              1. re: kpaxonite

                                                                Olive Garden is not fast food, not in the traditional definion, at least. And, personal choice or not, there is something called corporate responsibility. Toward shareholders, toward community and toward your customer. Removing information that was in place out of their best interest is not a smart move by any rationale. Yeah, the information is not "owed" to anyone, but considering plenty do want to eat healthier, this information can be a huge selling point.
                                                                But, then, chains are hardly the only restaurants with a lack of healthy choices.

                                                                1. re: Fibber McGee

                                                                  The SOLE responsibility a company has to its shareholders is to turn a profit. Consumers want high fat, high sodium products thats why these chains exist. Pasta is a starch so is bread and it isn't up to chains to explain to people that it might not be a great idea to eat pasta alfredo and unlimited breadsticks. I might agree with you if the chain was claiming to be a healthy choice but it isn't; therefore, consumers have to take responsibility for their actions. The information was in the company's best interest to remove because there are a lot of people who would realize that their lifestyle was not in their best interest; and instead of going out three times a week they will only go out once. The United States is a market system- you do what sells. Im sorry to say but if you are deluded enough to believe OG is good for you, you have what is coming to you. There is so much information about health and diets available to the public that if someone really cared they could very easily have access to the resources they need to see that OG is not healthy. It it isnt the burden of the restaurant, it is the burden of the client to make healthy choices.

                                                                  1. re: kpaxonite

                                                                    Noone said Olive Garden was (or should be) a healthy place to eat. We just want the information available to facilitate choosing less-unhealthy foods when in the position (for whatever reason) of having to make that choice.

                                                                    Do you also think grocery items shouldn't carry nutrition labels? Where would YOU draw the line? Complete deregulation of the food industry?

                                                                    There are simply some situations where the corporate interest is at odds with common sense and the public interest. This, along with things like advertising cigarettes to kids, is one of those situations. Sooner or later we'll have a law or regulation that mandates easy access to full nutritional information on restaurant food, and I, for one, can't wait.

                                                                    1. re: ratbuddy

                                                                      Yes Im for taking the labels off and making them optional then you would see advertisements from companies that really cared showing how healthy their food is. Think of it this way: if they arent showing you what is in the food there is a damn good reason not to buy it. It would actually make healthy shopping far easier.

                                                                      1. re: kpaxonite

                                                                        Not touching that one with a 10 foot fork.

                                                          2. re: ratbuddy

                                                            Acording to McD's nutrition data, that side salad has 10 miligrams of sodium... dressings range from 340 to 730 which would put the salad, along with the highest sodium content dressing at 740. 1 large fry is 350 so 5 would be 1750... just setting the record straight for others watching the sodium.

                                                            1. re: Rene

                                                              I am not talking about McDonalds' salad. I'm talking about Olive Garden. 350 Calories and 1930mg of sodium.

                                                              Kpaxonite, read again my comparison of Olive Garden's salad to Good Seasons dressing.

                                                              I'm a reasonable consumer and know that restaurant food is by no means healthy, but I would never expect them to pack nearly two whole grams of sodium into a side salad that comes as an afterthought and includes refills. I'm not saying don't let them do it, I'm saying I have a right to know about it so I can make my own decision.

                                                              1. re: ratbuddy

                                                                It read that way to me but in review, I get your meaning.

                                                          3. Perhaps I missed it while sifting through the thread, but does anyone know why Olive Garden discontinued this practice?

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Fibber McGee

                                                              Good question Fibber, and it seems to have been lost in all the chatter.

                                                              I'm guessing that a marketing type determined that per diner revenue dropped when that information was available at the table. People opting for the somewhat healthier, less profitable choices, people skipping dessert once they realized how much they had eaten as the entree, etc.

                                                            2. Can't say I have an opinion on Olive Garden's food as I've never eaten at one. I try to avoid chains like the plague. I am so with you, however, on the issue of nutritional info on menus!

                                                              My husband and I recently ate at a Stewart Anderson's on a long drive through an unfamiliar city. I had read David Kessler's "The End of Overeating" so I was familiar with the concept that chains actually ADD salt, sugar and fats to food to make them more appealing and actually addictive so I wasn't so surprised at what the calorie count of seemingly "good" choices could be. But there it was right in front of me -- appetizers intended to be followed by full meals that had higher calorie counts than the desserts! The desserts that started with a brownie, added ice cream and then poured sugared chocolate over that.

                                                              I join you in pressuring chains to provide info so people can make better choices and take better care of themselves.

                                                              Thanks for pushing this issue.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: rainey

                                                                I completely agree. Those who have their head in the sand can just skip over looking at the numbers, but I want to know so I can make a better choice when faced with eating at one of these places. The salt and fat hiding in seemingly somewhat healthy foods is disturbing - salad, broccoli, etc.

                                                              2. THis is why I love living in NYC...It's very very easy to avoid chain restaurants.

                                                                6 Replies
                                                                1. re: Monica

                                                                  it's easy to "avoid" them regardless of where you live - AFAIK, no one has ever been forced at gunpoint to consume a meal from a chain or fast food restaurant. but i've always found it amazing (and disheartening) that there *are* so many of those places in a city like Manhattan amidst such a diverse array of far more interesting culinary options.

                                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                    I suspect it is because a lot of people don't like taking chances.

                                                                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                      You clearly haven't been to Brevard County in (central Atlantic) Florida, then. ;-)

                                                                      I saw nothing but chains the whole week I was there! I was looking forward to something exotic- Cuban, maybe? Dixie Crossroads was the only exception, and that used to be a chain. It may still be, but it isn't a national chain.

                                                                    2. re: Monica

                                                                      It's very easy to avoid them where anyone lives, if they make the effort to do so. That doesn't necessarily mean healthy eating is guaranteed, though. Not by a longshot.

                                                                      1. re: Fibber McGee

                                                                        Most every restaurant where I live, Winchester, VA, is some kind of chain.

                                                                        We went to a restaurant touted not being a chain, but when I asked about where they got this or that, it was 'from the delivery truck.'

                                                                        Close, but a cigar.

                                                                        1. re: Rella

                                                                          I agree, Rella. We used to live in a small town. The nearest bigger town was about 30 miles away and that's where we went to Costco etc. If we wanted lunch it was basically a chain restaurant or the local spot with the Sysco truck out back. And I have no problem with either of those at times.

                                                                    3. Am I the only one chuckling at the irony of the outrage on this thread, when almost everyone posting is also a lover of "fine" dining? Yet, where's the outrage that there's never any nutritional information about any dishes served by the Babbo's, Per Se's, and Peter Luger's (NYC bias, and apologies if the info is posted, but I've never seen it...) of the world? Isn't that equally deceptive and remarkably corporate to not do so? I'd like to know just how much fat is in that torchon of foie and how many calories are in that hunk of porterhouse I just polished off. Surely, the decision to not do so has nothing to do with the fact that people would be appalled by the information, right? So why is a "lowly" chain restaurant held to such a high standard? If anything, they have far exceeded what the fine dining establishments disclose and should in fact be commended, no?

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                      1. re: FattyDumplin

                                                                        Since chain restaurant menus change seldom, it's much easier to do the analysis. And the ingredients are simpler and fewer I imagine.

                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                          but this is for the safety of the american public. ease of compliance shouldn't be a factor in whether a restaurant should or should not disclose nutritional info. as a frame of reference, the base meal at per se is 1230 calories, as measured by new york magazine. but throw in extras like wine, amuse-bouche, candies, bread and butter and that figure jumps to 2400 calories. would think it' be helpful then to know just how much fat / sugar is in those extras so i don't over do it.

                                                                          mind you, i'm not a nutrition advocate and personally have not eaten at OG in 15 years nor do i frequent ff restaurants. but when i do, i know what i'm getting into and don't rely on them to tell me what's healthy nor do i expect that i am getting something healthy. i just don't get the outrage i'm seeing here ...

                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                            btw, i think we were in full agreement, until you flip flopped ;)

                                                                            i agree that i'd be great if retauarnts did post their info freely, but i also understand their goal is to make money and they make money by feeding our gluttony! and if we can't control ourselves, it's not really their fault.

                                                                        2. Thankfully I'm never, ever, in the position where I *have* to eat at OG. As long as they are following the guidelines and rules I don't have an issue with this. The info is out there if you want it. And very likely all you need to do is ask.

                                                                          7 Replies
                                                                          1. re: tommy

                                                                            I did ask.... they told me they got rid of the detailed nutritional information binders in the restaurant and offered a really subpar "garden fare" flyer... which was a rehash of the information on the main menu which had icons to denote their "garden fare." At least the information is online for now.

                                                                            1. re: DrBruin

                                                                              I trust this meal didn't negatively impact your overall health and well-being.

                                                                              1. re: DrBruin

                                                                                I understand that you do eat out a lot do to your circumstance, and that you want detailed nutritional information.

                                                                                A bit off topic, but is it possible for you to plan ahead with at least one meal brought from home? There are little ice-pouch/purses that one can easily fit into a back-pack. Something as simple as a washed apple, or nuts/seeds, a good piece of cheese, etc.

                                                                                I know that it isn't always possible.

                                                                                After a day away from home, we were starved 150 miles from home at 11pm without eating since noon. I could have cared less about the calories, but then again, I'm not eating out everyday, or often.

                                                                                Also a possibility is if you take your computer, make up a list of places you do eat, such as Olive Garden, or even print out Olive Garden's nutrients and place it in your bag. I don't think the chains are going to change their nutrients in a prompt way for us to feel good about eating in them.

                                                                                1. re: Rella

                                                                                  I think this is a bit more than just Dr. Bruin wanting the info for himself. His (and other doctors') patients and the uninformed general public are probably who he has in mind here.

                                                                                  It's about properly conveying information that have and have made available to the public in the past, not personal dietary choices.

                                                                              2. re: tommy

                                                                                I've been in a position where I was essentially forced to eat at Olive Garden; my sister graduated, so the whole family decided to go there. I suppose that I could have gone on a hunger strike or sneaked in my own sandwich. But, come on. When chain restaurants are so ubiquitous and you have a social life (friends and family), you often find yourself in a chain restaurant. That's not even considering situations when you're traveling on the road and chains are the only thing to be found.

                                                                                But regardless of the fact, I'm disturbed at the argument that information should be hidden from me. If you really don't want to know, then ignore it. If you do want to know, that information is available to you.

                                                                                1. re: lapelosa

                                                                                  Hopefully your overall health or well-being wasn't impacted by these meals. And since the info is available, as you know, well, who care really be that worried about the odd meal at a fast food place. I'm more concerned about my habit of going to Peter Luger and Per Se.

                                                                                  1. re: tommy

                                                                                    The odd fast food or chain meal here or there isn't a big deal, obviously -- it's a blip in a pattern. I was just making the point that it's not always true that "if you don't like it, then just don't eat there." And again, why shouldn't information be available to me? Because it doesn't matter to me but it does to the restaurant? That seems to be the argument I'm hearing.

                                                                              3. I think if someone really wants the info they will go online and look up the info beforehand. If you go to a place like this on a whim, one needs to tyr to use common sense and asks the staff questions. My restaurant doesnt list nutritional info, but this is readily available online. For my own personal info I know what items on the menu to avoid due to high calorie/fat content.

                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                1. re: joe777cool

                                                                                  Yes, you can look things up in advance if you know where you'll be, what you'll be eating and don't need to accommodate someone else's restaurant preferences. But we don't all get to do that kind of advanced planning. And if we always could predetermine everything would we want to?

                                                                                  As for making the "healthy" choice when you are only offered a menu to make the decision, this person found that his "healthy" tortilla had almost 300 calories before anything was added to it to make a burrito: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/201... So what we might think is "healthy" and what a chain does to it can be very, very different things.

                                                                                  1. re: rainey

                                                                                    what is common sense to some people isnt common sense to others. Most people on this site realize how many hidden calories are in tortillas, others may not. What it comes down to usually is people who do truly care, or have specific dietary restrictions, know for the most part what they can and cannot eat. I am not going to be suprised when my "pastachetti with cream sauce" entree has more calories and fat than a normal adult should eat in one day, but i do take the time and effort to see what I can and cannot eat unless i am splurging.

                                                                                    I remember watching on 20/20 years back about an obese family who thought KFC was healty because "chicken is good for you"......ignorance is bliss!

                                                                                    1. re: joe777cool

                                                                                      oh yes it is, sweet ignorance. damn this original sin. I honestly want witless impulse. seriously. I'd be happier.

                                                                                2. DrB, I'm assuming you recall the old (now-defunct) Olive Garden in Westwood?

                                                                                  Man, when I was an undergrad at UCLA, that was THE special occasion place to go on a student budget! All you can eat salad & bread!

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: J.L.

                                                                                    Of course, JL... those were the days... when you're in your teens or 20s... you don't think about calories...and you can power down a couple of refills on the bread... but, that's when you should learn to care about the calories.... so you won't end up with problems as you get older.

                                                                                  2. The question in my mind is whether the actual nutritional count of what you're eating bears any resemblance to the original nutrition count. I'm sure that the sodium content at the very least fluctuates wildly.

                                                                                    1. Common sense. Don't eat at Olive Garden if you are on a diet. Eat a salad with a little chicken breast, Really do you have to be nannied? Order a salad with vinegar and olive oil only and a chicken breast and you should be okay. Or eat Olive Garden and eat the salad type stuff for a couple of days to balance it out. I can figure it out myself and I am not even a nutritionist (or a genius for that matter). Sheesh!

                                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: LorenM

                                                                                        This would be fine, except that things that SHOULD be healthy often are teased and oiled and salted into horrifying representations of themselves. Have you read "Eat This, Not That"? Things that I—and I am a bear about reading labels—found shocking, where I would have ordered it in a moment.

                                                                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                          This certainly applies to buying 'groceries" - shocking, too. I pass on most items lately. I only have to spend a couple of seconds looking at a label to put most items back on the shelf.

                                                                                          1. re: Rella

                                                                                            Rella... I have the same practice in the grocery store... I pick up something that looks healthy and delicious... and find that it's 68% of your daily intake of either fat or salt per serving and there are two servings in a tiny package...and... I immediately return it to the shelf.

                                                                                          2. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                            "Eat This Not That" is a money-making enterprise based on creating revenue from the food fear movement of the last 20 years. It is big bucks and is based on the food hysteria of their own making in most cases. I think most common sense about food is adequate (has been for thousands of years) without trying to make us afraid of everything.

                                                                                            1. re: LorenM

                                                                                              Wow, that's a negative outlook. ETNT is just harmless entertainment, and if it helps a few people make smarter choices, great.

                                                                                              1. re: LorenM

                                                                                                You're right that it's a money-making enterprise. With regards to the common sense about food, I'd believe you if I didn't see the evidence to the contrary every time I go to the supermarket or see the obesity epidemic.

                                                                                                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                                                                                  Common sense and doing the right thing aren't the same.

                                                                                          3. i think theyre so overpriced for the quality of food.

                                                                                            1. Wth all due respect why would anyone care about the nutritional content of bad chain food? I mean dont b a fence rider. U already decided to eat bad food so relax and enjoy it.

                                                                                              1. http://www.latimes.com/health/booster...

                                                                                                People do change their habits if they care providing they are given the information. Yes, OG isn't synonymous with healthy food, but if you're going to be eating there, why not have the information available to make the healthiest decision possible?.

                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: DrBruin

                                                                                                  because you shouldn't be there in the first place if you have any expectation of the healthiest decision possible.

                                                                                                  1. re: kpaxonite

                                                                                                    Sorry meant to reply to Dr. Buin...
                                                                                                    Thanks for the article Dr. Bruin. I'm not convinced that "calories" or "fat" for that matter are the biggest concerns at these establishments. And I think that stating that there is a healthier choice on their menu is like saying 'given the choice would you rather get hit by a bus or a car?' (maybe not the best analogy, but hopefully you see my point). I agree with kpax that it's better to not decide between those in the first place. People who eat at these establishments do so because they CHOOSE to, but that is not what I have a problem with. What I do take issue with is this idea that we can somehow pretend it can be healthy. I think it makes things worse for the consumer because it may give them the excuse to eat there. It's great for business though because the OG, etc needs the consumer to think that it is possible to make a healthier choice in their restaurant.