Do Package Deals and Bundled Specials Really Save You Money?

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:

Olive Garden: Appetizer

Olive Garden: Appetizer

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!

Olive Garden: Entree

Olive Garden: Entree

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!)

Olive Garden: Dessert

Olive Garden: Dessert

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!

Image credit to sjsharktank, scaredy_kat, darktek13, and Miss Messie.


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  1. Jaimie Smith

    Very interesting post, Jen! Its BS that they rip you off with the entree. There should be a wider selection than that.
    And omg, the never ending pasta bowl actually is a great deal. I never get more than one anyway, so I guess it does not really matter. But It’s still a great deal.

    • Jen

      I get get two or depending how hungry I am, three! Then I take the rest home for the next day. Yummm, pasta bowl!

  2. Candice J.

    I never actually took the time to break it down! I’m always one to get suckered into those things 3 course for $12.95, 2 for $20, I’m a fan for all of them! Although if it comes down to it most of the deals save you less than $5 and you only get half the food. At that point i’m so pissed it wasn’t even worth the money I saved. I think its a great idea in theory but all restaurants need to offer a better selection of what they already offer in the first place and more realistic portions. A 7 year old is not going to come in and order these specials so stop with the kid portions and just give us the adult size portions! You already know I know how you feel on the diet tip! Great post Jen! 🙂

    • Jen

      Thanks Candice! You’re right they never give you as much food for the “special deals”. Some of the 2 for $20 specials at other restaurants are a great savings though. Chilis has a good selection for appetizer and entree, but they don’t offer a desert with it 🙁

  3. Mandy Kilinskis

    I’m so amused that they market their deal with an appetizer when you get it anyway. I’ve taken advantage of meal deals like this all the time, and I never stopped to think if it was really worth the “deal” or not. I guess that’s the power of advertising for you. I’m definitely going to do some math next time I go out to eat!

  4. Eric

    Things like the “Never-Ending Pasta Bowl” are funny to me. Noodles. Sauce. Two very simple, very inexpensive things to make. However, as soon as the “All You Can Eat” twist is added, it becomes that much more enticing to people – despite the fact one bowl is more than enough for most people. Truth be told, the pasta bowl is probably just as much a rip-off when you consider how truly inexpensive a dish it is to prepare.

    However, it satisfies both the consumer’s desire for a filling meal, and the restaurant’s desire to make as much profit as they’re able. With that said, I guess it all comes down to how happy a person is, or not, with the promotion.

    Funniest part for me is the fact that after soup/salad…breadsticks…and an entree…you’re going to even think about dessert. I’m usually full after my breadsticks and salad!

  5. Jen

    Haha! I never thought I would calculate how much of a savings I was actually getting, but it saved me some money in the long run not getting the “meal deal”, and I got what I really wanted. Sometimes it’s worth the extra effort!

  6. Amy Swanson

    Okay, first of all I’m now craving Olive Garden. Secondly, like Mandy I never really thought about whether or not the “deal” I was getting was really worth it or not. I’ll be sure to do my research next time because saving a whopping $0.50 is not worth the gas it’ll take me to get to my neighborhood OG (oh yeah, I abbreviated it because I’m just that awesome.)

    Great post, Jen!

  7. Jeff Porretto

    Way to break it down for us! This is the info I almost ALWAYS are trying to decipher when I look at sales. It’s kind of like MSRP. I’m not going to just take their word for it that it’s a great value, I’ll decide for myself thank you very much…

    EXCELLENT Post Jen!

  8. Rachel

    Ah, misleading advertisements — they get me all the time! You’re right, this sounds like a great deal on the surface, but when you break it down it’s not much of a savings at all. That’s okay though — I still love you, Olive Garden, even if you try to fool me. 🙂 Great post, Jen!

  9. Eric

    Side note: as far as lasagna and ravioli are concerned, they’re inherently more complex to make (more prep time), and more importantly, have to be pre-made, meaning possible loss on the cost of uneaten food. Pasta noodles and sauces can keep a whole while longer. However, if you ever hear of anyone offering an “All You Can Eat” lasagna special…spread that good work and let me know! I’m there.

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