Olive Garden frequently offers “package deals” for their food options, which means diners can choose from select menu options to get a better value. They’re not the only ones, either — countless restaurants and stores offer discounts like this throughout the year. But are these specials really worth the money, or would you be better off ordering items separately?
Time to find out, using Olive Garden as an example. I’ll admit, I was a bit discouraged when I found out that they weren’t serving the Endless Pasta Bowl (all-you-can-eat pasta for $10, which actually is a killer deal), however, they are currently running a “three course meal for $12.95″ special. It seems like a pretty good deal…at least on the surface. I did some research to find out what was included in the three courses; my findings were a little disappointing!
Here’s a breakdown of what I found out from Olive Garden, separated by course:
Course #1: Appetizer
For the appetizer portion of the three-course meal option, customers get a choice between soup and salad with their breadsticks. I would jump up and down with joy for that…if it was any other restaurant, that is. The Olive Garden gives away soup or salad and breadsticks with every meal — ALL THE TIME. It’s not anything special or new. I would be impressed if they gave me a choice between stuffed mushrooms, bruschetta, and the caprese flatbread (these are some of the less expensive appetizers on the menu), but they’re not offering any of those for this special. It’s kind of a bummer!
Course #2: Entree
You get five different meal options to choose from in this section: a chicken sauce, sausage sauce, shrimp sauce, portabella mushroom sauce, or marinara meat sauce over pasta. What!? No ravioli or lasagna? I can understand not offering some of the more expensive dishes with steak and salmon, but lasagna is a classic Italian food, and who doesn’t like a good bowl of ravioli? I expected so much more from this section. But, even though there should be more of a diverse choice, for the most part it’s not a terrible selection. (I’d also like to add that I recently started a strict diet called the Slow Carb Diet, and it has not been easy at all. I’ve never thought about food so much in my life. Maybe that’s why I’m kind of bitter — I’ve been hankering for a big bowl of hot, gooey, cheesy, mega carb-o-licious pasta!)
Course #3: Dessert
The desserts in this package deal look and sound delicious: there is chocolate mousse, strawberry cream cake, limoncello mousse, dark chocolate mousse, and amaretto tiramisu. The sad part is, you can only choose one out of the five. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that one sounds like plenty, but there’s something else you need to know about the desserts. Did I forget to mention that each choice is approximately the size of a double shot glass? I’m only guessing here, but that sounds like two, maybe three bites. It’s not the full size you’d expect from ordering a regular dessert off the menu by itself.
So, after breaking down the pricing for this “deal,” I found out that it’s not really that much of a deal after all. The appetizer is free (all the time), the main course is about $10.95 if purchased alone, and the two-bite dessert is $2.50. That means you’re saving a whopping $.50 and only getting a handful of choices. If you spend an extra $5 to $10 instead, you could get the entree and full-sized dessert of your choice off the regular menu. Or, you can do what I do and just eat dinner at the restaurant then stop for Dollar Menu hot fudge sundaes at McDonald’s later. Yum!
Of course, this is only one of many examples out there; package deals will vary greatly from place to place. The moral of the story: If you see an advertisement for a package deal, whether at a restaurant or a store, you don’t have to take their word for it. Sometimes specials like this are worth it…but sometimes they’re SO not. Don’t be afraid to do your research!
Have you ever taken advantage of the Olive Garden’s dinner deal (or any other chain restaurant/store deals)? Do you think this sounds like a good marketing strategy, or should they just stick to the Endless Pasta Bowl? Am I just being too critical because I’m hungry, and therefore cranky? Let us know in the comments below!