In September 2015, 37-year-old Timothy Sherrell sat at his desktop computer refreshing Olive Garden’s official website over and over again. The national Italian-American casual dining chain had just launched a much-hyped, limited edition “Never-Ending Pasta Pass,” which granted seven weeks of unlimited meals at any Olive Garden location in the country.
Needless to say, when millions of Americans crashed Olive Garden’s website and the passes purportedly sold out within seconds, some took to social media to cry afoul and declare the whole thing a #pastagate conspiracy. But not Sherrell. “I didn’t know of anyone trying to ‘hack the system,’” he tells me. “It was $100 for individual passes or $300 for a ‘Family Pass’ for four people, so I simply made two separate orders and just kept trying until I finally got through.”
Perhaps unaware of the national meltdown ensuing online, Sherrell took a moment to confirm that his eyes hadn’t deceived him. Not only did he now possess an authentic, all-access Family Pasta Pass to untold Olive Garden bounties, but he had two.
Sherrell was one of only 2,000 people to actually get the Pasta Pass, and he knew exactly how he was going to use it. “So for $600 I’d be able to dine-in at Olive Garden, and eat pasta, soup or salad and a drink as many times as I wanted for seven weeks,” he explains. Many with sudden access to such riches might keep the splendor for themselves, but the web developer immediately gathered his coworkers and told them of his pasta prize.
“Aside from the unlimited dine-ins, I found that the passes I got allowed me four to-go orders, twice a day,” he says. “At the time, I was working in an office in Irving, Texas with around 25 associates, and we happened to be just down the road from an Olive Garden location.”
Sure, cheap lunch options like Raising Cane’s, IHOP, McDonald’s and Taco Bell dotted the horizon just across the highway from their corporate plaza, but it didn’t take much to convince his young coworkers that a one-time payment of $25 to eat Olive Garden twice a day for the next 49 days was a good deal. The manager of the local Olive Garden, however, took a bit more time to get comfortable with it. Eventually, though, “we worked out that I’d place two to-go orders for four meals apiece, and a manager would have to swipe my card twice for each order.”
With that, Sherrell developed an ordering system that allowed himself and his coworkers to get the maximum value from Olive Garden’s promotion. Every day, he’d send around an “order form” for each person to plug in their selections, resulting in an easily-digestible form he could give to Olive Garden.
“It became a sort of ritual to pass out the sheet in the morning, then get the orders in around 10 a.m.,” he explains. When the order was ready for pickup, he’d enlist one of his coworkers to help him “carry out two full bags and two four-drink beverage holders, load them into the back seat of my car and head back to the office.”
Unfortunately, the demands of work prevented Sherrell and his coworkers from living up to Olive Garden’s “Family Meal” ethos. “Being a technology company, we’d eat at our desks, so everyday I, along with whomever volunteered to go with me, would distribute the meals to everyone,” he recalls. “Yeah, people at that job really loved me for those seven weeks!”
After using the Pasta Pass for his coworkers every single weekday, as well as for several Sunday dinners with his family and a few donations to food shelters, Sherrell estimates he ordered 281 meals — most of which he documented in a spreadsheet.
“There were two breadsticks per the 281 to-go meals, plus nine dine-in occasions at six breadsticks per,” says Sherrell, who calculates that he went through just under 600 breadsticks in seven weeks. “I didn’t record who ordered soup, but I would guess about 30 percent of the time someone ordered soup. Since they sell half-gallon soup that serves six, that’s 10.67 ounces per serving, multiplied by 30 percent of the 281 meals is… Holy cow, 7.025 gallons of soup!”
All told, Sherrell brought in $5,049.06 worth of Olive Garden for just $600. “I didn’t include tips in my calculations, but I always made sure to give a big tip,” he adds. “And since it was a promotion, I never got any slack from it — even when I went to different locations.”
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Once the seven weeks was up, Olive Garden opted to discontinue the Family Pass and the to-go orders. “Unfortunately I didn’t do anything special when I ordered our very last meal, but that’s okay,” he says. “Just the signature of the lady who always prepared my order was good enough for me.”