Workers Reveal What It's Really Like To Work At Olive Garden

To know Olive Garden is to love Olive Garden, and what's not to love? Creamy pasta, buttery breadsticks, and the salad is so good, there might as well be butter in that too. It may not be authentically Italian, but do you really care? That may be up for debate, but what is official is that OG is comfort food you can always depend on, topped off with some signature mint chocolates. But what's it like to work at Olive Garden? There's got to be a behind-the-scenes vibe that only the insiders can adequately describe. For example, as patrons, we may be drowning in the "multiple carbs for the price of one" goodness (a.k.a. endless breadsticks), but that certainly doesn't mean the wait staff is thrilled about it. 

We did a deep dive to find out how Olive Garden employees fare day in and day out. Do the servers, hosts, and chefs also feel like when they're there, they're "family?" Read on to learn what employment at one of America's most popular Italian chain restaurants truly entails.

The discount perks for employees aren't limited to Olive Garden

We're not saying discounted chicken parm is the ONLY reason to apply for a position at your local Olive Garden, but it certainly doesn't sound like the worst perk in the world. As it turns out though, employees of Olive Garden are eligible for more than just lower prices on food served at their restaurant. According to a Redditor claiming to have worked at Olive Garden as a hostess, the discounts extend to other restaurants owned by Olive Garden's parent company, Darden Restaurants, like LongHorn Steakhouse and Yard House.

And a Quora user who said they worked at Olive Garden reveals that lower prices at other Darden-owned properties go beyond dining establishments and include "... a multitude of products from computers, cars, theme parks, hotels, travel, food, and more." The same user goes on to explain that these benefits help incentivize people to apply at Olive Garden since the actual monetary compensation and tips aren't exactly life-changing (and vary, of course, depending on where the Olive Garden is located).

The unlimited menu items can cause some stress for Olive Garden workers

While you may personally adore Olive Garden for its long-running offering of endless soup or salad and breadsticks, it seems to be a definite sore spot for the servers at this beloved Italian chain.

In 2015, an Olive Garden waiter told Cosmopolitan, "The hardest part is serving our unlimited soup, salad, and breadsticks." A Quora participant chimed in on a thread posing what it was like to work at Olive Garden, "...the 'all you can eat' aspect of it makes it challenging. If you have 6 or more people eating the soup salad breadsticks meal, you are going to have to do a lot of juggling to keep up."

In a Reddit thread inquiring about tips for succeeding as an Olive Garden server, a 15-year veteran of the waiting tables game reported on recent ups and downs of a new job at the pasta chain, writing, "The soup/salad/breadstick/drink refills are absolutely ridiculous, I've never experienced anything like this in any restaurant I've ever worked for."

So it seems as though you should definitely generously tip your waiter if you want to be a good human and take advantage of good deals like all-you-can-eat appetizers.

Working at Olive Garden might ruin actually eating at Olive Garden

It's probably safe to say that working at any restaurant might make or break your experience eating at the restaurant. Maybe you never get sick of spaghetti and meatballs no matter who's serving it? We do have intel via (a since removed) TikTok video from a former Olive Garden worker that her 10 years of slinging pasta at the chain did slightly (okay, majorly) alter her experience as an Olive Garden diner.

While she didn't delve into too many dirty details, her delivery and the content of the video (namely her line, "Just trust me, don't eat there") resonated enough that the clip was viewed over 2.5 million times. Many comments on the video were from other former employees confirming that working at the Italian establishment erased any desire they had to eat there as a patron. Again, the video has since been taken down, but it certainly lives on in our hearts and perhaps our appetites for Olive Garden.

It's hard to shake the smell of Olive Garden after leaving work

You thought you, your clothes and/or your car reeked of Olive Garden for days after the last time you ate there or got take-out? Try working a multi-hour shift at the fan favorite simmering in garlic, salt, and bread. We can imagine there's only so much scent Tide can take out of a button-down shirt that's been in and out of the Olive Garden kitchen for weeks on end, and our research confirms we're right.

A Reddit member staking a claim to employment as both a bartender and server at Olive Garden alleged in an AMA thread about working there, "You smell like garlic, onions, and Italian salad dressing. I never smelled appetizing to myself and I would shower as soon as possible after my shifts ..." 

Honestly, it would be surprising if anyone who worked at Olive Garden didn't permanently carry the faint scent of Italian dressing for the rest of their natural life.

The majority of Olive Garden's food is prepared fresh from scratch, not pre-packaged or frozen

Because it's such a massive chain with over 850 locations across the country (plus international ones), you'd just assume a lot of the meals you come to know and love at Olive Garden would arrive pre-packaged and frozen at the restaurant. Surprisingly though, a lot of the popular menu items are actually prepared from scratch on-site. Who would know this fact better than an OG employee?

One Quora user who worked at Olive Garden as a server since 2018 and confirmed in a thread asking if Olive Garden is a "bad restaurant" that "Olive Garden, for all its faults, makes all of its sauces and pasta in-restaurant in bulk and makes a separate batch for lunch and another for dinner ... for all the answers saying that most of their food is prepackaged, you guys are all dead wrong." In a different Quora thread, an Olive Garden worker reported, "Overall, with the exception of the desserts, it's freshly cooked food with fairly high-quality ingredients." And yet another Quora member with Olive Garden ties corroborated that most of the desserts arrive frozen, but the soups and sauces are definitely always made in-house.

There you have it. That Olive Garden grub might be Americanized Italian, but most of it is apparently whipped up from scratch.

The Olive Garden breadsticks could leave a mark

Olive Garden is synonymous with breadsticks — we think we can all agree on that. You shouldn't take those hot, fluffy loaves for granted, though, since you never know if a server was potentially harmed in the making (or serving) of that bread. Seriously, it's all fun and games until the hot bread starts making its way out the oven and you've got a boatload of hungry customers chomping at the bit for endless carbs.

According to a Redditor and former employee who wanted to dish on all the Olive Garden breadstick secrets, "Every Olive Garden employee that I know has a small scar on their hand from touching the oven, baking tray, or warmer." Ouch. That sounds painful — but maybe worth it? All we know is, the next time you're shoveling those unlimited breadsticks down your gullet, remember that there was possibly a scar formed in the process of delivering you that basket. Now, we hope you'll appreciate those breadsticks in a whole new light.

Olive Garden employees aren't afraid to give tips for making the famous Alfredo recipe

Pasta enthusiasts are very dedicated to the Olive Garden Alfredo sauce, whether it's chicken Alfredo, shrimp Alfredo, or fettuccine Alfredo. And the behind-the-scenes peeps at Olive Garden obviously get the inside scoop on what the chefs do to make this sauce so tasty. In fact, while there may be copycat versions of the famous Alfredo recipe all over the Internet, it's the employees who seem to have no shame when it comes to spilling the beans on what really makes the Alfredo pop.

On a Reddit AMA thread, a self-proclaimed former OG server and waiter confessed that there's a trick to executing it perfectly, purporting that the sauce is primarily, "... garlic, butter, heavy cream, and Parmesan cheese..." but added the caveat that, if you attempt to cook it, you should "... just make sure to simmer the cream, don't boil it or the cheese will curdle, and add the cheese a little bit at a time while stirring." If there's anyone we're gonna accept pasta sauce-cooking hacks from, it's an Olive Garden insider.

The Olive Garden corporate higher-ups are pretty tolerable

Working for "The Man" isn't necessarily the average layman's dream job, but it definitely can have its assets, such as health and retirement plan benefits, perks at other companies owned by the same corporation, and knowing you've always got a steady paycheck if you do your job well. While some might claim that working for a bigger corporate entity creates a sense of being just another number, others can often find that it really all depends on the company and its leadership.

A Quora user claiming to be a long-time service industry vet pointed out that while it's not always ideal to be working for a giant corporation as opposed to a small, privately owned establishment, the situation wasn't too bad at Olive Garden. In fact, the Quora member described Darden, Olive Garden's parent company, as "one of the best corporate places to work for." Darden also owns Red Lobster, The Capital Grille, and Seasons 52, among other popular chain restaurants.

Olive Garden servers will keep grating the cheese until you tell them to stop

We can't think of anyone who doesn't relish the simple joy of a server grating fresh cheese onto their salad. Isn't that part of why we even go to a restaurant in the first place? Sure, we can grate our own Parmesan at home, but it's always a treat when someone else takes the reins.

Of course, we all know that Olive Garden servers will grate the cheese until you officially tell them to stop. A lot of the Internet wonders, though, what happens if you never give them the red light? According to one Quora user who worked for Olive Garden, if the patron doesn't tell the waiter to stop, "... you keep grinding away on the cheese grater until the little block is gone and you say, 'there you go!' smile and maybe also say, 'I see you like cheese as much as I do!'" And another Quora member replied, "I worked at Olive Garden for about 15 years, and this happened to me twice. If they don't say stop, you continue grinding until the grater is empty, but one grater full is the cut-off."

Feel free to test this out yourself the next time you're about to enjoy some salad at Olive Garden.

Olive Garden employees might be privy to a family brawl

We're not sure why, but apparently, there is a vibe at Olive Garden that makes some patrons feel entitled to throw a few punches. Olive Garden staff have unfortunately been witness to some not-so-pleasant family dynamics. Per a report from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, some employees at an Olive Garden location in Greenfield, Wisconsin, told police they had to kick out an apparent lovers' quarrel when a pregnant woman entered the establishment and started a fight with another woman, who was dining with the alleged father of her unborn child. The workers also relayed to police that they watched the fight continue among the trio in the parking lot.

On another occasion, at an Olive Garden in an undisclosed location, a Redditor and Olive Garden server claimed to witness a family fight with a family member's newcomer boyfriend, describing an epic silence followed by "... chaos, chairs thrown out of the way, folks knocked over, punches thrown, the boyfriend and a family member are now locked in a grapple, with me inside the room." This sounds like a gnarly experience to have when you're trying to make a buck and dole out some shrimp scampi.

Olive Garden's 'culinary institute' in Italy isn't exactly legit

There has been much talk over the years regarding Olive Garden claiming to send select chefs to a culinary institute in Italy. But is it really a thing? According to a Redditor who actually took the trip, it's legit ... sort of.

The person described the experience in a thread specifically about Olive Garden's ties to an Italian culinary institute, explaining, "It was more like a hotel, during the off-season, with restaurant on-site .... they would use the restaurant (closed to the public ... off-season) as a classroom for maybe an hour here or there and talk about spices or fresh produce for a minute before going sightseeing all day." The person went on to say that it was more like a PR stunt than a training course, writing, "They paid for everything from meals, sightseeing, flight, everything except souvenirs. But in return, they sent pre-written articles to ... local newspaper[s] with fake quotes from me and a group photo."

So yes, they technically send workers (or have in the past) to Italy, but it's probably not the most rigorous training program for Italian cooking in existence.

Some Olive Garden workers claim the tipping policy is discriminatory

Olive Garden and its parent company Darden have faced some legal issues in recent years in regard to how certain employees regard the system of compensation and tipping that's in place at the company. The frustrations on this issue usually arise when a person lives in one of the 43 states that allow restaurants to pay below the minimum wage, with the rule that the employer will ensure the server still ends up receiving that amount in tips or direct compensation from the restaurant if necessary. 

According to a lawsuit filed by activist group One Fair Wage, the aforementioned allowance by the law sets up an inherently unfair system because the tipping policy at Olive Garden promotes both racial discrimination and sexual harassment. The complaint, filed in California courts, was based on a survey of 200 Darden employees and concluded that due to certain managerial behavior and the aforementioned minimum wage laws, workers of color were averaging 18% less money in tips than white workers due to how sections were assigned. The famous Olive Garden outpost in New York City's Time Square also encountered a lawsuit against Darden. Workers at this location complained of "racial and gender-based discrimination," citing a blatantly optimal working experience for white employees, who were allegedly given better shifts, better sections, and better opportunities for large tips.

Darden maintains that the real issue is the minimum wage laws, not their restaurants' operational policies.