Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Olive Garden

More Grouchy Rants About Corporations

I thought I could come up with a funny post if I found out that Dockers/Levi Strauss — the company that was screwing me over with their fake free-flight promotion and making it difficult for me to go to BlogHer — was actually a sponsor of BlogHer.  Unfortunately, I struck out.   They’re not.

But — jeez, BlogHer has a lot of corporate sponsors on their website.  How much do each of them have to pay to get in on this?  It is nice that corporations are so willing to help their female customers.  I don’t want to be cynical and suggest it is all markeing.  But will these same companies be there when the products break down?  Or will you then be talking to Menuel from India on the phone?  Maybe companies should spend less money on social media experts and marketing to us on Twitter and conferences, and more on hiring customer service representatives.

Anyway, like I said, this would have been a funnier post if Dockers/JCPenney was a sponsor of BlogHer.  The only interesting tidbit I found out about BlogHer is that the major platinum sponsor of the San Franciso, California conference is General Motors, the company directly responsible for 30% of all carbon emissions in California

This years sponsor line-up is a testament to top-tier brands realizing the necessity of reaching influential women who have shifted their attention to online sources of information and entertainment, and taking a proactive approach to reach them through our conference, said Jory Des Jardins, BlogHer co-founder and president of strategic alliances. BlogHers annual conference provides the perfect platform for marketers and advertisers to connect directly with consumers and create relationships with key influencers. The conference presents an opportunity to learn firsthand what these women are all about.

Enjoy the fresh California air.

Luckily, there are some some corporations that do try hard to please their customers.  Over the past three years, I’ve received some very nasty comments from Olive Garden servers on my blog, all because of one 2005 post where Sophia and I discuss sharing the “unlimited soup and salad.”   I have been called “cheap,” “miserly,” “an asshole” and several names unfit to print.  After complaining to Olive Garden executive offices, I received a phone call from the CEO himself.  He was “shaking in his boot,” to use the old term, knowing the far reach of “Citizen of the Month.”

Olive Garden CEO:  “What can I do for you to make this up to you?  Your sarcastic comments about our fake Italian atmosphere and cheapo wine is killing our business!  I can give you a special VIP card that will give unlimited free soup and salad bars for the rest of your life!  How about that?”

Neil:  “I do enjoy your minestrone soup, but how many times in a week can any one person go to Olive Garden?  That VIP card would get as much use as my 24-Hour Fitness Card.”

Olive Garden CEO:  “Name your price.  I know you are big in the mommyblogger community.  Our franchises are half-empty because of your power.”

Neil:  “I don’t want your money.  If anything, the rudeness didn’t come from the corporate offices, but from the Olive Garden servers themselves.  I know some of them need this job to work their way through their community colleges, but they were the ones who called me those horrible names on my blog.

Olive Garden CEO:  “I’m sure we could figure out a way for the Olive Garden servers to make it up to you in a reasonable manner.”

Neil:  “Actually, I do have an idea.”

Several months later, Playboy published this pictorial.

While I respect Olive Garden for their responsive customer service, and admit that some of their servers are cute (but probably too young for me), your restaurant still sucks.

Update:  Just wanted to add that this Playboy pictorial, “Girls of Olive Garden” is true.  Kendra Wilkinson, one of Hugh Hefner’s “girlfriends,” loves Olive Garden so much, she suggested this idea to “Hef.”

Here is a video of Kendra talking about her favorite restaurant. The only reason I include it here is to fight against the fallacious stereotype that Playboy bunnies are really stupid.   In fact, if Olive Garden sponsored BlogHer next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her as one of the speakers on the “Monetizing Your Video Blog” panel.

Peace Offering to the Lovers of The Olive Garden

If you’ve been blogging for a period of time, you are bound to write a post that rubs people the wrong way.  You will receive angry emails or insulting comments.  I’ve seen bloggers quit because of all the conflict.   I’ve been lucky, mostly because no one really cares about my opinion.   There are a few times I thought I wrote something “controversial,” about race, for instance, and I was up all night, biting my nails, wondering if someone was going to write a comment like:

“You’re a racist pig.  You suck.  Your blog sucks.  And your penis sucks.  I’m never reading this blog again, and I’m telling everyone to never read it again, too.”

Of course, these comments rarely show up when I expect them to.   As much as I try to be a loud-mouth Bill O’Reilly type, nobody ever seems to want to take me on.  The posts that attract the most negative attention are the dumbest posts possible, the ones I wrote in ten minutes while wearing my underwear at 1 AM.  

On December 5, 2005, I described my first experience eating at The Olive Garden.  It was a relatively minor post in my oeuvre.  The “plot” revolved around a moral discussion I had with Sophia over “sharing” some of the salad she was going to order of the chain’s all-you-can-eat soup and salad, since she wasn’t going to eat too much of it herself:

“Sounds good,” said Sophia. We can get one unlimited soup and one unlimited salad, and we can share it. They even give you unlimited breadsticks. I think I’m beginning to like this place.”

“Sophia, I don’t think you understand. Each unlimited soup and each unlimited salad is for one person only.”

“What do they care if we share it?”

“Because then what’s to stop ten people from coming in here and ordering one unlimited soup and one unlimited salad and just sharing it all together.”

“That’s ridiculous. Besides, it doesn’t say anywhere, “no sharing.””

“Olive Garden cannot stay in business if everyone shares the same unlimited soup.”

As you may notice, I was the “good cop” in this story, defending the sacred rights of The Olive Garden to limit sharing.   In the course of the post, I made a few jabs at the restaurant, mostly about the “authenticity” of the chain restaurant’s food and ambiance — but nothing very threatening.  At the time of the post, the restaurant chain had a commercial on TV where some Italian-American family brings their grandma straight off the plane from Italy — to Olive Garden — and Grandma feels right at home, even though I doubt her local trattoria in Sicily gives a guest one of those grimy “buzzers” that vibrate when your table is ready.

Despite it all, I rated the Olive Garden soup and salad as “pretty good.”  I even made a list ranking chain restaurants, and Olive Garden came in as my #2 chain restaurant!

The Cheesecake Factory
Olive Garden
Denny’s
Coco’s
El Torito
TGI Friday’s
Chili’s
Souplantation
Bennigan’s
Outback Steakhouse
Fuddrucker’s
Benihana
Applebee’s
Red Lobster
Pizza Hut

So, the question remains – why all the hate?  For two years now, I’ve been getting comments and emails angry about my opinion of Olive Garden, as if I attacked Jesus himself.  I don’t know who these people are, or WHY they are so passionate about the Olive Garden.

Is it possible that people are finding my post on Google?  It does come in as #8 when you search “Olive Garden.”   But why all the insults?   Are these frustrated servers?  Or is it management doing ego searching?  There seems to be a lot of pent up anger about everything to do with the Olive Garden… and it is all being taken out on me.

This is a comment from TX OG server –

Supposedly we make the rest in tips… but cheap asses come in and run us into the ground with soup and salad refills and then leave a dollar… so we really don’t make enough to live on.   Thanks, it’s assholes like you that don’t tip, that perpetuate poverty among single mothers who can not do anything but wait tables for a living because they didn’t learn any useful skills before the man who lied to them and told them to have kids, up and left and never has to pay child support because the government doesn’t pursue deadbeat fathers if it’s too difficult because he’s out of state and doesn’t work but commits crime and sells drugs for a living. Shitheads!   Why don’t you think about that, and leave a decent tip.   It’s customary and YOU FUCKING KNOW IT.

Good point, TX OG server, but I don’t ever remember saying anything about the tip.

From “Jeff Kennedy” –

Are you serious? You went to the Olive Garden and expected..what?  Anyone with half a brain knows what to expect from a corporate giant in the food industry.   Too many of your cynical observations gave you away as to what kind of critical pessimistic, nitpicker you seem to be.   For instance, how did you know the birthday boy was “bratty”?  And as for the hostess, do you honestly think that a teenager who’s working for minimum wage at the OG is really putting that much thought into table availability times for the HORDES of people who inundate those places daily?  99.9% of the people who go to the OG regularly (who are incidentally NOT on a fact-finding mission) just want to hear that they will be seated “soon” and then they take their place with the other cattle and wait patiently (or sometimes not) until they are called.  What’s going to be your next revelation?  Maybe the fact that NOT EVERYTHING IS A DOLLAR AT THE DOLLAR STORE??  Horrors!!!

You are right.  I cannot know for sure whether that annoying boy was “bratty,” other than my observation.  But what makes you so sure that I am a critical, pessimistic, nitpicker with half a brain? 

From “Fred D” –

This is the Hotel Reality – Check In Please!

I don’t know what people expect when they go to a restaurant.  I expect to eat and have a drink with my meal.  I realize that if you go at a peak time, you will have to wait.  I get the impression that those who are down on a place because they try to make a profit, would be better off at McDonald’s (they make loads of money) and they would probably want to bring their own bottle of Skrew Kappa or Riunite in a brown paper bag and pour it into their water glass – no servers to oversee the sneaky deed. 

Can someone please tell me what Skrew Kappa is?  Do they serve this at The Olive Garden?

From Josh –

sigh @ you… first of all… if you’re going to write a blog, at least attempt to be responsible and don’t lie or exagerate to make a point.   The soup is not more than 3.95 by itself in any price bracket throughout the country and the salad is 4.95.   The soup & salad is 6.95 at the most for lunch, lower when on promotion.  The OG has tried hard to maintain this extremely low price because it knows its guests value it and it wants something for everyone. and do you go to buffets and pay for one person… grab a plate and give it to your friends? cheap ass….

“If you’re going to write a blog… don’t lie or exaggerate to make a point.”  HA HA HA, that made me laugh for ten minutes!

And this one, from two days ago, I deleted because I wasn’t sure if it was anti-Semitic or just crazy.

From Jose “Jerkoff” –

Olive Garden is great. At least the employees are forced to be clean and presentable.  I ate at a Kosher Italian restaurant in Los Angeles.  It was filthy, weird and they made me buy an extra cup to share a pot of hot tea.  So all restaurants are about selling, wake up.

I know that restaurant, Jose.  Your problem is that the weird staff probably put you in the “non-Jewish” section of the restaurant.   We get free tea flowing constantly at our table!

Let me just come out and say it — I don’t hate the Olive Garden.  There are plenty of targets that are closer to my heart.  Have you ever actually eaten dinner at IHOP?  Now that is disgusting!  The sausages at Denny’s?  Taste like metal!  The burgers at Carl’s Jr.?  Greasy and the buns are flaccid!

I’m sorry if you hate working at Olive Garden so much.  I try to always leave a 15% tip, even 20% if you bring me a second basket of breadsticks.

Since 2005, I’ve been to Olive Garden a few more times.  We have one nearby, at the mall.  It’s decent enough for a quick meal before the movie.  Let’s be honest, their Italian food is as authentic as the “bagel breakfast sandwiches” at Burger King are Jewish.  Italian food is my favorite cuisine, and Queens has some of the best Italian restaurants around, so I am a harsh critic of Italian food.  I have spent years complaining about the mediocre food at most REAL Italian restaurants in Los Angeles.   I DO NOT go to Olive Garden for a real Italian meal. 

However, if I have insulted you, Mr. Olive Garden, please accept my apology.   I hope that these emails are coming from frustrated servers and not from your main office.  I’ll save my rant about your overcooked pasta for another post.

A Year Ago on Citizen of the MonthThe Final Chapter of the Closet Trilogy

Two Years Ago on Citizen of the MonthNeilochka Girls

The Truth About Olive Garden

olive3_1.jpg

Last night, Sophia and I attended a blogger-meetup, greeting Psychotoddler and Mrs. Balabusta, who were visiting L.A. from snowy Milwaukee. Since the Psychotoddler family is kosher, we met at a kosher Chinese restaurant on Pico Blvd. Surprisingly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be (although note to restaurant: please hire someone who knows how to make sushi. That was NOT sushi, kosher or not). Also attending the event were Dr. Bean, ball-and-chain, Brett of DadTalk, and Anne of Inland Empress.

There were spirited conversations about many things, including integrity and truth-telling when writing blog posts. The group was extremely intelligent, which, of course, made me think about my blog post for that day, which was about a “Cock Shaker.” So, I’m glad to be back here with so many of my other blogger friends who are as dumb and unsophisticated as I am.

Despite my lack of sophistication, the issue of “integrity in blogging” has been weighing on my mind today. You see, in my last post, there were quite a few joking comments about the Olive Garden chain. Although I didn’t say so directly, I insinuated in my post that I didn’t like Olive Garden. The truth is : I’ve never been to Olive Garden. I’m like the movie reviewer who gives the film “three thumbs up,” but never bothered to see the flick.

In all honesty, I just don’t like those chain restaurants — at least the ones that I have actually gone to. To give you a better understanding of my feelings, I’ve created a list of chain restaurants, in order of my hatred of the chain, from least to greatest:

The Cheesecake Factory
Denny’s
Coco’s
El Torito
TGI Friday’s
Chili’s
Souplantation
Bennigan’s
Outback Steakhouse
Fuddrucker’s
Benihana
Applebee’s
Red Lobster
Pizza Hut

Today, I called Sophia.

“Sophia, I’m taking you to lunch.”

“OK, where to?”

“Olive Garden.”

Silence.

I explained how I owed it to my readers to learn the truth about the Olive Garden, especially if I’m ever going to mention it again. So, I picked Sophia up and we drove to Olive Garden near the Del Amo Mall.

We were surprised to find such a long line for such an uninspiring place. Why were so many people here? Los Angeles has tons of excellent REAL restaurants. Maybe we were missing out on something. Maybe people were just suckers for those stupid commercials where the guy brings his authentic Italian mama to Olive Garden, and she loves it. Loves it!

Inside the restaurant, the decor was anything but “authentic.” There were some badly drawn paintings of the Italian countryside on the wall, and few bottles of Chianti were propped up here and there. “Benvenuto!” was written on the wall in the waiting area. The restaurant staff was not very authentic either, more Redondo Beach High School than Tuscany High School.

We were told that there would be a ten minute wait. This seemed a little bull-shitty, since there were seven other families waiting in front of us. Afterwards, another couple was also told that their wait would be “ten minutes.”

“How could this be?” I asked Sophia. “This made no sense. Do they just tell everyone that the wait is ten minutes? And if our wait is ten minutes, and they came after us, shouldn’t their wait be at least eleven minutes?”

Sophia and I were given this large black beeper contraption that was supposed to go crazy with lights and special effects when our table was ready.

Time passed. Twenty minutes. Sophia and I revealed to each other that we spent the morning snacking and neither of us were too hungry. But it was too late to turn back. I had to learn the truth about the elusive Olive Garden.

BRRRINGBRRRRING!

My hand vibrated as if I had just pulled the trigger of a 45 caliber pistol. The beeper was sending us a message: It was TIME for our reconnaissance meal.

Some girl in the Olive Garden uniform, but wearing USC socks (!) took us to our cozy table, nestled comfortably next to a large obnoxious family celebrating some bratty boy’s birthday. Before we even had a chance to open a menu, Miss USC wanted to know if we wanted anything to drink.

“We serve real Italian wine.”

We said we just wanted water. She looked disappointed, as if we had just rejected her from admittance to our sorority.

Sophia and I looked over to the birthday table to check out the food they were eating. Bland pastas, boring pizzas. Nothing looked very exciting. We were also surprised that the menu was more expensive than we expected, considering it was a “family” restaurant.

“It’s cheaper to just go to the real Italian restaurant on Torrance Boulevard.”

“I guess we’re paying for the ambiance.”

We laughed as the family started singing “Happy Birthday” to the bratty boy.

“Since we’re not too hungry, maybe we can share something.”

As I perused the attractive, flowery-designed menu, I noticed something interesting. For six bucks, you can have as much soup as you want, with three different choices of soup. For another six bucks, you can get an unlimited amount of Olive Garden’s special salad.

“Sounds good,” said Sophia. We can get one unlimited soup and one unlimited salad, and we can share it. They even give you unlimited breadsticks. I think I’m beginning to like this place.”

“Sophia, I don’t think you understand. Each unlimited soup and each unlimited salad is for one person only.”

“What do they care if we share it?”

“Because then what’s to stop ten people from coming in here and ordering one unlimited soup and one unlimited salad and just sharing it all together.”

“That’s ridiculous. Besides, it doesn’t say anywhere, “no sharing.””

“Olive Garden cannot stay in business if everyone shares the same unlimited soup.”

“The place is jammed. They’re making a fortune. No one cares if we share the soup. We’re only two people. How much soup and salad can we eat?”

“It’s stealing. It’s like downloading illegal music.”

“You download illegal music all the time.”

“That’s different. “They see you here doing it. No one sees you at home downloading music.”

“Oh, so if they don’t see you stealing it’s not a crime. You’re some “citizen” of the month!”

“I won’t download anymore music. Is that better?”

“I don’t care. Look, if you’re going to be such a stick in the mud, we’ll each get our own unlimited soup.”

“Fine, that’s best.

“But I don’t care what you say. We’re just getting one salad, I can never finish half of it.”

We ordered our meal. The waitress seemed pissed that we were such cheapo customers, and assumed she was going to get a small tip. We each ate three bowls of soup. But I wouldn’t touch the salad, which only made Sophia act like more of a temptress.

“Try it. Just take a bite.”

“No”

“Stop being such a wimp.”

Which was the exact same thing Eve told Adam.

“OK, I’ll try it. Just a second. Wait…. OK..”

I tried the salad. Sophia shook her head in disbelief.

“Did you just wait until the waitress walked away before you ate one tiny piece of lettuce, so she wouldn’t see you eating it?”

“No.”

“Yes you did!”

“Fine. I don’t like to be humiliated. What if she said something. What if a spotlight went on us and voice came on saying: “Look over here everyone. This couple is stealing an unlimited salad because they were too cheap to order two unlimited salads like they were supposed to.””

“You need help. Serious help. Why don’t you blog about THIS tonight?”

“About what?”

“About how you were afraid of eating the salad because the nineteeen year old waitress might see you and look down at you?”

“I’m not going to do that.”

“Wimp.”

HAPPY NOW, SOPHIA?

By the way, the soup and salad (we never finished out first bowl of salad) at Olive Garden were pretty good.

So, here’s my revised list:

The Cheesecake Factory
Olive Garden
Denny’s
Coco’s
El Torito
TGI Friday’s
Chili’s
Souplantation
Bennigan’s
Outback Steakhouse
Fuddrucker’s
Benihana
Applebee’s
Red Lobster
Pizza Hut

Today on Blogebrity: As the Blog Turns

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