Is Oliver Garden BAD? Why the loathing?

I’ve heard constant phrases like “Better than Olive Garden” uttered by people talking about other (not so great) restaurants. I also haev heard negative comments, and nothing positive, about the Oliver Garden restaurant chain.

So – since they don’t have any near where I live, shall I ask the gourmandes on here what is so bad or good about the place? Is the loathing merely against the fact it is a chain? Is it really bad? Good? Mediocre? Why are they so popular when there are Italian eateries all over the country?

Oliver is cool people.

Speaking as an Italian kid who would stuff himself with grandma’s lasagna every night if he could… it’s not as bad as people say.

The thing is that any small town or big city will have anywhere from one to dozens of “real” Italian restaurants that are better and (most often) cheaper.

That’s where the Olive Garden hate comes from.

It’s good not great. Like most chain style restaurants, it is non-threatening , non-adventuruous italian food where probably anybody can find something. It is far from horrible or inedeible or anything like that. I am sure if you know your area you can find a better Italian restaurant, but it is fine. My wife and I actually enjoy going there for their bottomless soup and salad.

The pasta seems at least as good as that at any other chain: Friday’s, Red Lobster, Applebee’s, whatever. While that’s not glowing praise, I don’t see any reason to single Olive Garden out.

They’re fine, for a chain. I’ve had more than one meal there and there wasn’t anything to complain about, really. So, while I don’t participate in the Hate, I understand the Hate. One, they’re a chain, so they get hate on general principal – not only just because they are a chain, but they share all the characteristics of typical chain dining such as ginormous portions that deserve hate. Second, as Justin said, SOME (not all) cities may have at least a couple decent independent Italian restaurants that should be getting some love instead. Third, a lot of people, even when living in a city with tons of independent restaurants, when asked for their favorite, will often say “Olive Garden!” It’s just … sad. Most of the time these people live in the 'burbs, where chain restaurants are often all that’s available, and they won’t go into town, or further out of town, where better independents are. And they think OG is the best there is.

I just don’t think it’s very good quality Italian food. In fact, I’m not entirely convinced that much of the food is Italian at all.

I have to agree with the last post. The thing with Italian food is that it is widely variable within Italy according to region - and this variability continued when Italian immigrants started restaurants here.

Italian places in Pittsburgh will often include the Eastern European dishes of the owner’s neighbors. Pizza will taste different across the country when bought in neighborhood places. Italian places in St. Louis toast the ravioli. There are lots more examples than this, and growing up in an Italian family and living in Italy for a few years, I got to experience many of these customs.

It is wonderful to experience, and I have my preferences for regions and dishes. None of them involve the bland inoffensiveness of soup, salad and breadsticks that taste the same across the country.

It did turn into a standard thing that I don’t feel is warranted. Olive garden makes much better food than the other chains in my opinion. Back when I was in college, and it was starting to branch out around the country it was great. All you can eat soup salad and breadsticks for a cheap college budget. They did start to get popular then and tried a couple business models. About 6 years ago I went there with some friends, and it was different. They were trying to be a real high end, and the cheapest dinner on the menu was 13 bucks, with some in the $20 range. Unfortunately in the mean time the basic food hadn’t changed, just what they name it, and the quality of the tablecloths. Compared to a good local place, the price to food-quality just isn’t as favorable. It is much better than many local places though. Its kind of a safe choice, which is why wanna-be foodies hate it, somehow food tastes better at a place none of your friends have ever heard of.

I don’t hate chains, BTW. We go to Maggiano’s Little Italy from time to time and have no complaints about the food or service there. I took my uncle who is Sicilian by descent and visits Italy several times a year - he liked the place a good deal. So did the rest of my extended Italian family when they went to the locations in DC and Las Vegas.

It is a far better experience than the Olive Garden and not much more expensive, frankly.

Please, sir, I want some Moore.

It is a bland for all seasons. I’ve been once and just didn’t find it very authentic or exciting. It’s like when you’re hunting for antiques and all you can find are craft stores.

They are not that horrible, they just suffer from being the most well known italian restaurant and probably the worst italian restaurant in any given area.

It’s affordable and consistent. I like it for family gatherings where there will be a wide variety of what people want and a hint of garlic and spices, but not so much that the old folks can’t eat and the children won’t. But there are lots of much better Italian restaurants.

I’ve eaten at Olive Garden once that I can remember. My experience is why I haven’t been back since, although I’d go if I had to (i.e. my bf’s parents wanted to take us, which almost happened recently) and give it another shot.

Ordered chicken parmesan. A simple, boring, yet often yummy dish that seems to be difficult to screw up (chicken topped with sauce and cheese, baked, for anyone who isn’t familiar somehow). Supposed to come with a side of pasta. Meal IIRC was $14 but I could be wrong so don’t quote me there.

The chicken just tastes so blah, none of the components have any real flavor. And my side item ends up being spaghetti. With no sauce or flavoring of any kind. No butter, no oil, no red or white sauce. Just noodles. So I had shitty chicken and shitty noodles. And our waitress never came back so I could complain, and by the time she did (check time) I was so annoyed I couldn’t even speak. So a bad experience on food and service fronts both.

I’ve been to plenty of chain restaurants, and even had some pretty damn delicious meals at them. My Olive Garden experience was so retarded though I never bothered again. And there is better chicken parmesan and cheesy red sauce pasta and also real Italian food and whatnot in my area so I don’t have to bother with Olive Garden thankfully.

It’s not bad but does seem to be over-priced compared to other chain type sit-down places.
I’d compare it to TGI Fridays, Champs, etc. But instead of entrees being $9-$15, Olive Garden is closer to $13-$20.
They don’t seem to fall in line with comparable food.

I would dispute this last part. Locally there are some very good local italian restaurants. And there a couple that are appallingly bad. I have no idea how they stay in business.

It’s soggy and flavorless. If you like that sort of thing, then no it’s not bad.

Personally, I don’t get the intensity of the vitriol. So it’s not the best in town, maybe the worst Italian in town, OK - so don’t go - but HATE? Pshww, a waste of brain energy if you ask me.

However, I do have criticism that makes me not want to go there. I’ve been maybe 3 times in the last 5 years and every time they make a big production, at the end of the meal, about telling me to go online and make comments and use the code number on the receipt and I could win $5000! I find that tremendously distasteful and ‘clingy’. Stop it.

I’ve had entrees there that were so bad I had to wipe my tongue off with the napkin. This is not something I’ve really ever done anywhere.

I like the salad and breadsticks though.

The soup Toscana (I think, the spicier one with sausage and kale) and the salad and breadsticks make Olive Garden better than most chains. I always go and want to just do soup/salad/breadsticks only but then talk myself into an entree- which are never bad, but I am always sorry I didn’t just stick to the main reasons I go there. And our local Olive Garden (which admittedly, is just about in the ghetto), has excellent service in general. The last time we were there, one of the waiters screwed up/disappeared and another waitress took our table over, it was obvious she was very busy but she went out of her way to take care of us (without making us feel that we were a bother)