Service -The first time we visited this restaurant our server was very friendly and seemed quite knowledgeable. He seemed happy to cater to our gluten-free, dairy-free needs. With our second visit to Olive Garden (a couple of months later) we had a new server. Again, this server was friendly and happy to cater to our gluten-free/dairy-free needs.
Knowledge - The first server seemed to have a great deal of knowledge about food sensitivities and was able to tell us about the processes that the restaurant has in place to keep the food safe. We did have questions about marinades and salad dressing and when he wasn’t positive about the ingredients he checked with the cooks.
The second server that we had actually asked us what Celiac Disease was (we were, of course, happy to educate him). He also suggested a sauce to me to go with the gluten-free pasta dish that I had ordered, and then came back a few minutes later to let me know that the sauce he had recommended wasn’t actually gluten-free. When I asked what steps the chefs/cooks take to ensure that gluten doesn’t end up in our meals, the server was quite vague and assured us that they are very careful to make sure that our meals don’t contain gluten, however he wasn’t able to tell us how the chefs/cooks would be keeping our meals gluten-free.
Safety of food - With our initial visit, we felt comfortable eating here and the food did appear to be gluten-free. We spoke with the manger after enjoying our meal and she further discussed the ways in which the restaurant works to ensure the safety of the food.
On the second visit, I felt a little less comfortable about the safety of the food but was glad that the server double checked the ingredients of the sauce that he recommended to me prior to serving it. I do wonder how many other gluten-free customers he has offered that sauce to in the past as I believe only checked on it after we told him just how serious a gluten sensitivity/celiac disease actually is.
Taste and cost/serving size - We were very happy with both the price and the amount of food that we were given. My wife even had to ask for a “to go” box which never happens with her!
The second visit was a different story. My wife ordered a chicken breast with a side of veggies and received a very meager portion of each (see picture above). In addition, my serving of pasta and chicken was also quite small, and while we did get our money’s worth with the amount of salad that we both ate, we were both ready to eat again by the time we got home a little while later.
Overall experience - The overall experience was definitely better with our first visit than with our second. The service was good with each visit and it does appear that the restaurant has a system in place to ensure meals are gluten-free. However, I wasn’t impressed by the education/knowledge that our second server seemed to have when it comes to gluten and I feel a more thorough staff training/education program would be beneficial. In addition, the number of choices on the g-free menu was quite limited; it would be great to have a few more options available. It was really great to see a gluten-free menu, however it didn’t offer any appetizers or soups or even display prices for that matter.
Based on the inconsistency of server education, lack of gluten-free menu prices, and the fact that gluten-free pasta is made-to-order, just like the regular pasta, I still see a large concern for error in meal preparation. I give Olive Garden 3 out of 5 stars.