Olive Garden Pushes the Limits of Free Food

Olive Garden plans to offer 50 Lifetime Pasta Passes for just $500.


Olive Garden

Here’s something for

Darden Restaurants

DRI -1.45%

to noodle over.

The company’s Olive Garden chain has had great success in recent years with its Never Ending Pasta Pass, which allows winners to pay $100 for a card that entitles them to unlimited food for nine weeks. The event is not only a public relations bonanza but a fairly affordable way to get customers in the door during what is an otherwise slow part of the year. Most people wind up paying about as much as they might have for a similar amount of food, and they also might bring along paying friends or order dessert and drinks. Relatively few emulate North Carolina man Alan Martin, who takes full advantage by famously eating every single meal at the chain.

The program has expanded greatly with more passes sold and longer promotion periods. Now it might have jumped the shark with an offer for 50 Lifetime Pasta Passes for just $500.

American Airlines

tried a similar move with its AAirpass, selling free flights for life back in the early 1980s. One man, an Alan Martin of the skies, racked up 10,000 flights, costing the airline millions. The promotion ended in litigation and acrimony.

Write to Spencer Jakab at spencer.jakab@wsj.com

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