How much pasta and breadsticks can one lifetime hold?
A select few Olive Garden enthusiasts will soon be eating their way to an answer. Starting Thursday, Aug. 16 at 2 p.m. ET, the chain is selling 50 Lifetime Pasta passes—A new twist on the retailer’s annual sale of the more limited Never Ending Pasta Pass, which is only good for nine weeks of all-you-can-eat feasting.
But fans will have to jump through a few spaghetti hoops for the privilege of being a pasta-pass lifer.
Interested customers need to be among the first online to spend $100 (plus tax) for a Never Ending Pasta Pass. Those early birds will be notified by email whether they can upgrade—for an additional $400 plus tax—to the Lifetime pass.
The chain calculates the forever-pass holders will break even on the $500-plus investment by the 45th pasta bowl. But that calculus is only financial. Even a meal that’s relatively modest by the menu’s standards (one breadstick, a bowl of minestrone, a salad with Italian house dressing, and spaghetti with marinara sauce) rings up more than a day’s worth of sodium.
In its fourth year, the annual Never Ending Pass promotion is so popular that expectations are the Lifetime passes will sell as fast as a bowl of the chain’s low-calorie shrimp scampi. Typically, the allotted 20,000-plus Never Ending passes sell out in seconds and some are resold on eBay. This year, they’re capping sales at 24,000 passes. (Never Ending is somewhat of a misnomer: The the all-you-can-eat, nine-week pass period is in the fall, and covers only part of the menu: Pasta with select sauces, soup, salad, and breadsticks.)
Ultimately, no matter how much pasta is consumed, Scott Hamula, associate professor at Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications, said the promotion should be a net positive for the Orlando, Fla.-based chain, owned by Darden Restaurants.
He counted the media hype as potentially equivalent to “millions of dollars” in brand impressions and factored-in upselling of non-included items like appetizers, beverages, and desserts for the pass holders and their guests when they visit the restaurants. “All totaled, this will result in thousands of dollars of additional revenue per card,” he said.
And tips aren’t included.
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