The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

I Might Be Olive Garden’s Worst Nightmare

Georgia Gaughan
Olive Garden’s crispy chicken fettucini, one of their most popular pasta dishes.

Late in my junior year, in the review unit of Journalism 1, I took a trip to the Fairview Heights Olive Garden, where I’d face (and appropriately trash in my writing) one of the worst restaurant experiences I’ve ever encountered. This Wednesday, I went back for seconds, paying the brand-new Edwardsville location a visit.


I was taken to my table within the minute I walked in the door, which would have made an immediate positive impression on the rest of the night, but things went downhill the second I sat down. 

With the way the building is set up, there are about five half-booth-half-tables across from the bar, which is where I was seated. I came with a party of three, but was seated at a six-person table in a nearly-empty restaurant. 

I thought it was a little awkward that we were at such a large table, but I didn’t think much of the placement at first. Five minutes later, I felt like I was an exhibit at the zoo. 

Because of the location of the table, the surrounding area was treated as a hallway between the kitchen and the dining room, meaning there was always someone walking past my table throughout the entire night. Luckily, they never failed to make direct eye contact with me every time. 

It seems like a relatively superficial issue, but it got pretty uncomfortable when the servers, bartenders, hosts and managers used this “hallway” space to have all their personal conversations as if customers weren’t fewer than 10 feet away.

I really don’t bring this up for the sole purpose of complaining – I’ve had jobs and I know that there needs to be a time to decompress from the often-stressful environment of customer service. Sit-down restaurants, however, are generally a more professional setting and should probably be treated as such. 

I’m going to be 100% honest, this seating arrangement pretty much ruined the rest of the night. I was perpetually uncomfortable, especially with the thought that the rest of the dining room was wide open and I could easily be sitting somewhere else. 

Once our server came to the table, a different mood was set. I could tell she was a genuinely nice person (partially because I could hear the conversations she was having with her coworkers), but was probably rushed through customer service training due to the limited time the staff had to prepare for the opening in late February, explaining why she was an unsettlingly awkward presence each time she visited the table. 

I’d probably make a pass for this if it were closer to that opening date, but, by this point, it was well into their second full month of operation and the smaller kinks should really have been worked out. 

If the constant looks from passers by weren’t enough, our server doubled as the bartender and stood at the bar, staring at our table for the entire hour and a half we were there. Interestingly enough, she simultaneously managed to leave us sitting for a good 30-minute period toward the end of our time there.

All that said, I think our server was the most personable individual I interacted with the entire night. 

Twice within the evening, the same manager visited the table to ask how we were doing and if we needed anything. I usually always appreciate when managers make their way out of the back office and work with real customers, but I really wished this one stayed far away.

She had an unnerving presence, standing there for about a minute too long and stumbling awkwardly through the few sentences she spoke. Again, I get that the training process was significantly abridged in comparison to other establishments or positions. At the manager level, though, quality customer service should’ve been a prerequisite. 

Overall, I would give the service aspect two-and-a-half out of five stars. It was a little worse than “nothing special,” but definitely not one- or two-star worthy. My recommendation for the management team is that they invest in a few more Saturday training days – get your front-of-house employees to a certain level of comfortable interaction and you’re golden. 


One thing Olive Garden is known for is its “Italian hospitality” – a principle of creating a welcoming atmosphere and providing for the customer, including their never-ending soup, salad and breadsticks, which comprised the first course.

After having a Fazzoli’s in Edwardsville for most of my life, I never thought much of the Olive Garden breadsticks. They had half the flavor as Fazzoli’s and weren’t nearly as soft.

This visit to Olive Garden didn’t really change my opinion. The bread was hot, but hard as a rock. A breadstick is a breadstick, though, so I wasn’t about to let that ruin my meal. 

I also opted for the house salad over a soup, knowing that’s one of the restaurant’s most well-known menu items. 

I thought the salad was well-balanced in the actual ingredients, having an even mixture of iceberg lettuce, carrots, red cabbage, onions, olives, tomatoes, croutons and peppers. I’m not usually a fan of a salad with such a high volume of non-lettuce additions, but with the light and parmesean-y Italian dressing and freshness of the iceberg, this one really did the trick. 

We ordered three entrees for the table: the fettucini alfredo with crispy chicken, the cheese ravioli with three cheese sauce and the lasagna. I thought these items were a good representation of what was popular, what sounded good and what was an undeniable classic.

One standout from the visit was how perfectly-timed every course was ready. From the time we ordered entrees, we only waited about 14 minutes until they were at the table, giving us a great window to start on bread and salad.

The first entree, the fettucini, definitely gave me the best first impression with how great the plating was. As soon as I got into the chicken, though, I could feel my rating sink. 

I took a different route ordering crispy chicken instead of grilled to avoid plain boredom – I’ve had chicken alfredo hundreds of times before, a handful of those being at Olive Garden. I knew what it was like and I knew it wasn’t anything extraordinary, so I did what I could to make this a more enjoyable dining experience.

That said, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a tough, fatty piece of chicken. Being served on top of pasta, it should be cuttable with a fork, but I have little faith I could’ve gotten through that thing with a steak knife. 

To be frank, I didn’t pay much attention to the actual pasta after that. I remember the sauce being alright, but it quickly turned into that texture you get with refrigerated leftovers (I didn’t box this one up).

The ravioli didn’t stand out in any particular way, good or bad. I enjoyed the three-cheese sauce, but I could tell this thing had been sitting in the oven for a while because the actual ravioli was hard on the edges and a little tough to get through. Still, I wish it was a little hotter when it got to the table. 

Lasagna is a classic, but is tough to master, especially in a world where everyone swears their grandma’s lasagna is the best around. So take it with a grain of salt when I say that it felt like Olive Garden didn’t even try. 

I don’t know what I expected – it’s a massive chain restaurant. I really have no idea how they prepared this, but it tasted like it was straight out of a cardboard box from the freezer section of Target. 

Maybe it was the way-too-chunky sauce or maybe it was the freezing layer of cheese encapsulating the entire dish, but for a $20 entree, this should’ve just been better in general. 

I’m typically not the type to order desserts at restaurants, but I couldn’t go home without tiramisu, so I ordered one to go and got out of there.

This, along with my salad was one of the only satisfying things about my meal – I’m a huge fan of tiramisu and, despite their being a massive chain, Olive Garden seriously does it best. 

I’ve eaten this dessert from restaurants all over the place, including from some of the most authentic Italian restaurants in the Hill and downtown Chicago, but I’ve never found such a perfectly balanced, stable tiramisu like the one I had from Olive Garden. Maybe that says something about me, but I’ll choose to ignore it. 

When it came time to pay (of which our server so kindly reminded us), the bill ended up being around $80. Listen, I’m no expert on the value of Olive Garden’s food, but I know for a fact that that meal was not worth more than my prom dress. 

That said, I chose to eat here, meaning I chose to pay that price, but not even the most top-notch service and perfectly-cooked food could’ve made up for that – it’s just Olive Garden. 

I would also give the food two-and-a-half stars – there was an even balance of awful food and really great food, so I felt that was only fair. 


In the end, the restaurant itself has a really great, open floor plan that makes the building seem huge. I’d rather there was a higher booth-to-table ratio, but most Olive Gardens are going to have a sea of tables in the middle of the largest dining room.

Because it’s a brand-new franchise, the seats and tables seemed very well-kept and the overall environment was pretty warm and inviting (besides, of course, the area I was seated in). 

However, because it’s so new, I had higher expectations for the cleanliness of the restaurant. I noticed throughout my visit that there were the same piles of dishes sitting on the bar and the tables next to me the entire time. Like I said, my server was at the bar the entire time, but these dishes stayed put. 

I’d like to say this didn’t bother me, but it definitely hindered the general impression I took from the restaurant as a whole. Sitting next to dirty dishes for a few hours isn’t the most inviting thing and, frankly, it just made me want to get up and leave. 

With my ratings combined, the Edwardsville Olive Garden earned five out of 10 stars – not low enough to call “bad,” but definitely not high enough to recommend to anyone. Honestly, it would be much lower if it weren’t for the fact that I felt bad for the front-of-house staff, who I know needed more time to develop professional human-interaction skills. 

I’m just hoping I caught them on their worst day.