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All Roads Lead to Casual American Dining: The Chronicles of an Olive Garden

I’ve made it my personal mission to break down the middle class American casual dining experience. With honorable mentions like Chilis and Longhorn Steakhouse, these are foundational pillars of fine dining for the masses. Although littered with mediocrity, these institutions have lasted through a roller coaster of unpredictability: recessions, pandemics, and even just the dissatisfaction of the general public. They’re still around for a reason; the reason being the imitation of a nicer dining experience. Whether you’re in Omaha, Tampa, or New London, these restaurants are at your disposal. The menu for this week is Olive Garden; buckle up Middle America, it’s time to travel across borders for some Tuscan ambiance!


Upon entering the golden gated doors, you are greeted by the Italian countryside aesthetic and the aroma of their famous breadsticks. The walls are adorned with greenery, scalloped lamps, and “ancient” stones. Every waiter is decked in black pants, a black shirt, and to top it all off, a black apron. When your pasta comes out, the waiters grate the cheese for as long as you like (personally, it made me severely uncomfortable and a bit unsettled). They don’t break eye contact, so I commend them for that. Overall, the interior of the Olive Garden hits the benchmark for the Americanized interpretation of Italy. 


The Olive Garden truly is a Garden of Eden when it comes to the fruit it bears. Although the food had a fragrance of mediocrity, it overall, satisfied our appetite for an affordable and edible experience. Upon the purchase of any pasta entrée, you are guaranteed an endless supply of salad and breadsticks. Although it’s assumed that the breadsticks stole the show, the salad was extremely delicious and went above and beyond. Our table was a cornucopia of bread and salad, never emptying, but constantly filling us up. The entrées met my expectations, but refused to go beyond them.


It is at this point in the dining experience that I ultimately felt failed by Olive Garden. Although our waitress was receptive to our wants, needs, and requests, I feel like the servers lacked the “it” factor. They didn’t have the charm of the Texas Roadhouse employees, and the little connection we did have seemed forced. If I am fully providing my opinion, and also some constructive criticism, I think the staff of Olive Garden should embrace their performance capabilities and give the people what they want: The Italian Charm. 

As I travel down this long road of American casual dining experiences, I have yet to grow weary of their similarities, and instead am celebrating their differences and strengths. I tip my hat to these restaurants that have survived the past two years and emerged resilient. So, here’s to the menu books that have multiple offerings, the casual dining black napkins that barely absorb water, and the electronic devices on each table that allows the customers to play both doodle jump and eat pasta simultaneously. I love you casual dining, this is my ode to you. 

Meredith Harper

Conn Coll '24

Meredith Harper is a junior at Connecticut College. She loves to write, listen to music, and hangout with friends.