Why You Should Avoid Olive Garden Salads, According To One Employee

Perhaps most known for its famous soup, salad, breadstick deals, Olive Garden is an Italian franchise restaurant that serves your favorites in a somewhat casual setting at lower prices than you'd find at most standalone Italian restaurants. In fact, their breadsticks are so famous that they've garnered tons of copycat recipes trying to help home chefs recreate the savory and delicious flavors they evoke. (You can check out this one!) And even Food Network has jumped in the copycat train when it comes to their salad.

According to CBS News, their slogan "When You're Here, You're Family" was synonymous with the brand until 2012 when they ended its 14-year run in favor of the more modern and concise, "Go Olive Garden." Part of the Darden family, Olive Garden is one of the better-known franchises, sitting beside Longhorn Steakhouse, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Season's 52, Bahama Breeze, and Eddie V's (via Darden). All of these spots are pretty known names in and of themselves and cater to countless guests each year. And yet, despite the fame, the overarching franchise umbrella, and their push to modernize and cater to customers' needs, Olive Garden still has one issue a former employee called out when it comes to the Olive Garden salad.

What's really in an Olive Garden salad?

Let's start with the good. Olive Garden's salad is beloved by many a patron. The company is known for making sure its salads are crispy, seemingly fresh, topped precisely, and dressed in its signature Italian salad dressing, served family style (per the menu). Dubbed a famous house salad, it includes crisp lettuce, tomatoes, olives, onion, and pepperoncini. And it is praised for that crisp texture, a quality many other fast food or restaurant salads might lack, as well as its fresh quality, giving it its delicious flavor and earning it much praise.

As one Eater critic notes, the salad and the toasted ravioli are the only two things of note on the menu, offering praise for its "hunks of iceberg and half-moons of red onion and the crumbly croutons and that shriveled little insouciant pepperoncini and those two contractually obligated olives, all drenched in some kind of mysteriously exquisite dressing." The dressing, according to the company site, is a combination of "a special blend of Italian spices, oil and vinegar." Suffice it to say, people seem to like it!

The truth about the salad, according to one former employee

On TikTok, a former worker (named "spookyshanny" on the platform) shared their personal experience working at an Olive Garden for 10 years. In one video, they mention that many claim to "feel like s**t after you eat there," and in subsequent videos, they state all the reasons they no longer eat there, including their former restaurant having a "really bad slug problem in the soda fountain" and the supposed use of "canned chicken" in the never-ending pasta bowl.

Specifically referring to the salads, they claim in another TikTok, "The salad is kept in the alley and servers would go by and pick toppings out of the salad all day long with their fingers. They took sanitizing wipes, hand wipes, away from the Olive Garden servers and so the majority of them are scraping plates and working and not washing their hands. And they're putting that in the salad, so, not good." They also claimed they would regularly "pick caterpillars and spiders out of the salad mix."

What other former workers are saying

According to another Reddit users, the supposed "freshness" doesn't actually even expand far beyond salad. They claim that the bread is from a bakery, meats are mostly frozen, as are pizza doughs, gnocchi, desserts, and most apps. Another Reddit user called out the chain for microwaving a ton of its food, saying that "So much stuff is now microwaved, it's sad. When I first started a lot more of the stuff was freshly prepared in some way, even if it was steamed. Any filled pasta was most likely nuked."

While some of these stories seem too wild to be true (and the TikToker notes it's their "own personal experience and opinion"), it's hard not to think it might be worth visiting another Italian establishment and splurging for something potentially more authentic, fresh, and sanitary. And in 2015, Eater reported that they actually cut back on cleaning, noting they saved money by reducing "their carpet-cleaning efforts to once a month," so they're not opposed to cutting corners to "scrimp and save wherever possible."