Okay, I'll admit it, I like the Olive Garden restaurant. I know that some people turn up their nose at the place: Not authentic Italian; lousy food and all of that, but I don't care. I have enjoyed myself every time I've eaten there. Get this: I KNOW IT'S A CHAIN RESTAURANT and not something owned by two guys recently off the boat from Tuscany. I like the food anyway. But there's a lot more to a restaurant than its food.
Olive Garden has put a lot of thought into the whole dining-out experience, from the interior design to the staff and finally to the menu. In my opinion it all works together successfully. Others must agree - OG's are always crowded. And even when they're crowded the atmosphere is laid-back, comfortable and relaxed.
My friend Mark and I went to the OG for a lunch recently. We got there around 1:00, and the restaurant began emptying out as we ate and talked...and talked...and drank. I rather like their "house" red wine - even more than the expensive name-brand wines I snobbily buy. Our waiter kept dutifully refilling our glasses. Nobody rushed us or made us feel like we were intruding. Eventually, we realized the staff was setting up for the dinner crowd. By the time we paid the bill ($90!) and stumbled out into the parking lot it was nearly four-thirty. Funny how time flies with good conversation and cheap wine.
So a new Olive Garden opened up in Grand Forks, ND. There is an 85 year-old woman by the name of Marylin Hagerty who writes a daily "general interest" column for the Grand Forks Herald newspaper. Hagerty devoted one of her columns to the new OG restaurant and it went, as they say on the internets, "viral."
Apparently, at first she was being mocked on Facebook and Twitter for doing a serious review of a chain restaurant that no serious "foodie" would ever patronize. No, they'd rather patronize a little 85 year-old lady. (I didn't see any of the FB posts and I don't subscribe to Twitter.) But then the mainstream media picked up on it and Ms. Hagerty's fame really exploded. Suddenly she was all over the place. You know how those chirpy network morning show hosts love a story like this; they still can't seem to comprehend the power of the internet and how it can turn ordinary people into stars.
Marylin Hagerty did not review the Olive Garden with the jaundiced eye of a big city food critic. She just reported on the opening of a highly anticipated restaurant in little Grand Forks, North Dakota which, at 52,800 people is just about the same size as dinky Pensacola, Florida (except that we have 300,000 in our county whereas Grand Forks County only has 67,000).
You can read Ms. Hagerty's column in which she reviewed the Grand Forks Olive Garden HERE.