Whether you’re looking to have a nice dinner out or planning to get food before an event, you may consider Olive Garden.
Olive Garden specializes in serving Italian American food in a casual setting.
Because it’s a casual restaurant, you would think that it’d have cheaper prices, but that isn’t always the case.
You may wonder what it is about Olive Garden that makes it so expensive.
Why Is Olive Garden So Expensive? (10 Reasons)
With meals reaching over $20, Olive Garden is a surprisingly expensive fast-casual restaurant.
Food costs, catering fees, and a large menu all contribute to its expensive prices.
Let’s look at these reasons in more detail.
1. Regular Specials
One of the major reasons why Olive Garden is expensive is because it offers regular specials.
You can often find some sort of deal going on.
It might be a family deal where you get a plate of four entrees at a discounted price.
It might be that you get an extra meal for free.
Whatever the discount is, you’re able to save money.
This makes Olive Garden expensive for a few reasons.
The first is that it means Olive Garden will sometimes put a slightly higher price on a meal so they can discount it.
The goal is to make the customer believe that they’re saving a lot of money.
They’ll see the original expensive price and then look at the discounted price.
After seeing the discounted price, they’ll believe that they’re saving a good amount of money on the meal.
Depending on how much it actually costs Olive Garden to make the meal, they could end up making a lot of money from the marketing ploy.
Another reason this makes Olive Garden expensive is that deals like this sometimes increase its operating costs.
If they’re offering a free meal, for example, then that’s a meal that they’re not getting paid to make.
That requires them to take some money from their other earnings to cover those costs.
To ensure they can handle that sort of cost, they charge high prices on their food outside of the specials.
Olive Garden is expensive because they run frequent specials.
2. Large Portions
If Olive Garden has a reputation for anything, it’s for its large portions.
When you order a plate of pasta, you can expect a good amount of noodles and sauce.
Olive Garden tends not to mess around with its portions.
Part of that is because it’s an Italian American eatery.
When people think of Italian food, they tend to think of large portions.
Olive Garden stays true to that.
Of course, it also means that the restaurant takes on a bit more costs.
Since they offer food in large portions, each dish requires more ingredients.
This runs up their food costs.
They have to buy more food to be able to continue serving large portions.
Since their food costs are higher, they need to make up for those costs.
Selling their food at higher prices allows them to do that.
Olive Garden becomes especially expensive when food costs, in general, are high.
For example, if a world event is impacting the price of certain ingredients that they use, then they’re going to have higher food costs than normal.
They’re going to end up spending more money to fill their inventory of that specific ingredient.
As a result, they have to cover those costs to earn a profit.
They have high prices which enables them to do so.
This is different from a restaurant that sells food in smaller portions.
They’re able to offer cheaper prices because they’re not using as many ingredients to make the dish.
Their food costs aren’t quite so high.
Olive Garden is expensive because it sells large portions of food.
3. Large Menu
Another reason Olive Garden is expensive is that it has an extensive menu.
While it’s an Italian American restaurant, you can order almost everything there.
It specializes in different types of pasta, but you can get things like fries and salads there, too.
They also cater to families.
They have adult menus as well as kid menus.
Since kids don’t always have refined palates like their parents, they tend to be pickier eaters.
As such, Olive Garden has to ensure they serve food that children will want to eat, too.
Because of its extensive food menu, Olive Garden has high food costs.
It’s different for a restaurant that only produces a handful of different dishes.
This means they’re able to buy a few ingredients to make their food.
Since their food costs are low, they’re able to sell their meals at low prices.
Olive Garden doesn’t have that luxury.
While they do offer a lot of pasta dishes, their menu extends far beyond that, too.
They seemingly have a little of everything.
To ensure they’re able to cook whatever their customers order, they need to keep their inventory stocked.
That means they spend more on food.
They need a lot more ingredients because they have so many different food offerings.
Because its ingredient costs are likely higher than other restaurants, Olive Garden has to cover its costs with expensive prices.
Olive Garden is expensive because of its extensive menu selections.
4. Time Of Day
The time of day at which you choose to eat at Olive Garden can also impact how expensive it is.
This is also true of many restaurants.
The busiest time for most restaurants is dinner.
Olive Garden is no exception.
People finish working, then they decide to treat themselves or their family to a professionally cooked meal.
Dinner is also popular because that’s when people get off work and school.
The whole family can come together and eat.
Families that have older children who partake in activities after school likely often find themselves eating at a restaurant.
It’s often too late for parents to cook once after-school activities have ended.
To ensure everyone gets a good meal, they’ll go to a restaurant after the activities have ended.
Because dinner is so popular, Olive Garden makes as much money as it can by having high prices.
The customer demand is there, so they want to make a profit from it.
You can think of it in terms of supply and demand.
At dinner, there’s a lot of demand for seats at Olive Garden.
Since Olive Garden can only seat so many guests at a time, they have a limited amount of space.
That allows them to have higher prices on their dinner menu than on their lunch menu.
If you want to eat cheaper meals at Olive Garden, then you should consider stopping by during lunch.
There are fewer people in the restaurant then because fewer people are off work or school.
Sit-down restaurants tend to take longer because of the personalized service.
As such, many people who have short lunch breaks can’t take the time to enjoy their food.
With fewer people eating at Olive Garden during lunch, they have lower prices to try and encourage people to come to the restaurant.
The supply of space is higher than the demand.
A final factor that adds to the price is the complexity of the meal.
Dinner menus tend to be more advanced and filling than lunch menus.
Since meals are typically larger at dinner, they likely take more food to make.
That means Olive Garden spends more to make dinner menu items than lunch menu items.
Food costs and the amount of demand make Olive Garden more expensive at dinner.
5. Never-Ending Pasta Bowls
Another reason Olive Garden is expensive is that it has never-ending pasta bowl specials.
Now and then, Olive Garden will run a promotion called Never-Ending Pasta Bowls.
The promotion allows you to pay for your first pasta bowl, then get as many pasta bowls as you want afterward either for free or at a discounted price.
The promotion changes from time to time, but in most cases, you can get pasta bowls for free.
This means you’re able to get a lot of food for very little money.
Of course, the initial pasta bowl that you pay for tends to be on the expensive side.
That’s because Olive Garden wants to make sure that it still makes money no matter how many pasta bowls you end up ordering.
They have to make the bulk of their money from that single sale alone.
Another reason Olive Garden’s prices are expensive is that they need to cover the cost of making that free or discounted pasta.
Pasta is relatively cheap to make, but it isn’t free.
Olive Garden has to ensure that it makes enough money to cover the cost of making all that free or discounted pasta.
Olive Garden expects most people to feel full after one or two extra pasta bowls.
The fact that they have large portions helps get people full faster.
Pasta, naturally, is also very filling.
As such, customers tend not to order many additional pasta bowls so Olive Garden doesn’t really lose money.
Of course, there are exceptions.
There are some people who can pack away a good number of pasta bowls.
These individuals likely run up the food costs for Olive Garden.
To ensure they’re still able to cover those costs, Olive Garden puts high prices on its pasta.
6. Expensive Drinks
While the food at Olive Garden can sometimes be inexpensive, you may find the drinks to be expensive.
Olive Garden sells everything from beer to wine.
While its beer prices tend to be quite high, it’s the wine that can get very expensive.
Part of the reason why Olive Garden has such expensive wine is that it makes its own wine.
This makes Olive Garden expensive because it wants customers to buy its wine over the other brands that it carries.
Olive Garden has many different wines available.
As an Italian American eatery, it tries to capture a sort of Tuscan atmosphere.
No visit to Tuscany is ever complete without seeing its vineyards and trying its wines.
To ensure it has a type of wine for everyone, Olive Garden sources wine from a few different places.
It also decided to develop its own line of wines.
To encourage people to try its wine, Olive Garden raised the price of the other wines.
Since their line was cheaper, people naturally chose it over the other brands.
Olive Garden is able to make its wine cheaper because it doesn’t have to pay for anything extra.
For example, when buying wines from other vintners, they have to pay retail prices.
By making their own wine, they only have to pay manufacturing costs.
Since it’s cheaper to get into their restaurants, it’s also cheaper to sell.
By making the other wines more expensive, people are encouraged to buy their wine instead.
Alcohol is also expensive because it has taxes associated with it.
When it comes to wine, there’s also an expectation of expensive prices.
Cheap wine doesn’t usually taste good.
By making the wine more expensive, Olive Garden makes its wine seem like it’s more sophisticated.
Olive Garden is expensive because of its expensive alcohol.
7. Catering Fees
Olive Garden offers catering services, but those services can be expensive.
For one, Olive Garden requires a $100 minimum for its catering service.
That can be too much if you only need catering for a small group of people.
You have to purchase at least $100 worth of food to get catering.
You can also expect to pay a 10% delivery fee.
The fee only extends to orders that cost $500 or less.
If your catering service ends up costing more than $500, then you pay an additional 5% for every dollar after that mark.
That can make the price of your catering shoot up substantially.
There are a few reasons why Olive Garden has such expensive catering.
For one, they need to account for the large amount of food that they need to make.
Since it costs them more to make that food, they’re going to charge you extra for it.
They also require a few members of their staff to handle the delivery and service.
That means they have to pay for more servers.
Finally, you also get a few items for free.
Since that adds to their cost, they put higher prices on their catering.
Olive Garden is expensive because of its catering costs.
8. Gluten-Free Dishes
If you have a gluten allergy, then Olive Garden has you covered.
In an effort to make its menu approachable for everyone, the restaurant started offering certain ingredients that are gluten-free.
This ensures that even if you have a gluten allergy, you can still eat at Olive Garden.
Those ingredients tend to cost more than ingredients that contain gluten.
That’s because manufacturers take on more costs to remove gluten from their products.
It’s also sometimes seen as a healthier alternative.
That adds to its price as well.
Since Olive Garden takes on higher costs to use gluten-free ingredients, they charge more for their gluten-free food.
9. Unlimited Breadsticks
Another special that Olive Garden often runs is an unlimited breadsticks promotion.
When people order food at Olive Garden, they often get unlimited breadsticks.
When the promo is running, you can have the server keep bringing new batches of breadsticks.
You don’t have to pay for extra orders of breadsticks either.
This makes Olive Garden expensive because they have to cover the cost of those extra breadsticks.
Even if people don’t end up ordering a lot of them, since they’re not paying for them, Olive Garden isn’t making any money off of them.
They’re only losing money.
To make up for that, the rest of the meal needs to be more expensive.
10. Tuscany Imagery
A final reason Olive Garden is expensive has to do with its image.
Olive Garden’s aesthetic is an Italian restaurant with roots in Tuscany.
Tuscany, Italy is a beautiful region filled with vineyards and incredible food.
It’s a place where you can go on vacation and enjoy the luxuries of life.
That sort of luxurious aesthetic is what Olive Garden tries to emulate.
Since luxury is expensive, Olive Garden has expensive prices, too.
Olive Garden is an Italian American restaurant famous for its pasta bowls and breadsticks.
Food costs and other factors make the restaurant more expensive than some people would likely expect it to be.