A new version of the publicity stunt, a yearlong offer of unlimited pasta servings for the rock bottom price of $300, sold out in less than a second online yesterday, just as it has for the last four years. For the math challenged: That’s 1,000 passes selling for $300 each in less than a second, or a cool $300,00 in less time than it takes to break a breadstick, without a customer stepping inside a store. The 2018 deal was a marked escalation from previous executions in terms of price ($300 vs. $100) and the lifetime of the deal (buyers would get unlimited servings for a full 365 days, compared to seven weeks under the older offer). But there were only the 1,000 offered, compared with 22,000 $100 passes put up for sale in 2017.
It was the lower-priced tier of Olive Garden’s dual-level offer that suggested a bloom may have been knocked off a rose. Simultaneous with touting the $300 pass, the casual chain offered an eight-week-long pass for $100—the same version that sold out in less than a second last year, as we learned firsthand (yes, we tried to buy one, and, yes, the pass was sold out by the time our fingers hit the button to order one). But this time, the lower-tiered deal didn’t sell out for a full 10 seconds. Ten seconds!
We know because staffers were assigned to buy the passes. Editor Heather Lalley had the mission of snagging a $300 ticket (she has a teenager and a 7-year-old; it seemed only fair she pursue that higher-valued deal). In a repeat of our efforts last year, she watched a timer tick down and the passes go up for sale. And just like last year, they were gone by the time her finger hit the keyboard.
Assistant Editor Benita Gingerella was assigned the task of buying one of the $100 passes (you could only go for one pass or the other, not both simultaneously). She, too, watched the timer tick down—and then snagged one.
Gingerella’s success could’ve been written off to luck if Lalley hadn’t pivoted in her quest for food-budget relief and applied for the $100 pass in a Hail Mary move. Despite her late start, estimated at about 10 seconds past post-time, she qualified for one.
Curiously, the editors noted a 20-second discrepancy in the timers shown on their respective computer screens, which are all of 8 feet apart. That twist was consistent with complaints on Twitter that some technological glitch kept would-be pass buyers from succeeding in their quest. And they were not happy about it. Olive Garden has not yet responded to our request for confirmation of any problem.
Both editors opted not to input their credit card info, knowing our accounting department might question Pasta Passes as a legitimate business expense. But it was their assessment that the passes were completely get-able, a marked change from Olive Garden’s past offers.
The Darden Restaurants-owned chain has yet to issue the results of its offer.