My husband is a wonderful speaker and knows a lot about everything. He recently spoke at a Nurse's Class about teenage adjustment to adulthood. In appreciation, they gave him a $25 gift certificate to Olive Garden. Not ones to pass on money, however it comes to us, off we went to Olive Garden for dinner on a Friday night.
When we got there, something was already amiss in my head as we circled the parking lot once, twice, three times, finally finding a parking spot way back in the Never Lands. Upon entering the premises, we were hit with a massive crowd of people. I looked at my husband, a bit shocked at this whole scene.
Since my time in Lancaster, I have really enjoyed the slower pace of life, the way people are more patient with others, the way I have hit very little traffic...the way I haven't had to wait or deal with many crowds.
So here I was, surveying this rare situation with a bit of confusion--why am I waiting in line at an Olive Garden? I don't even like food chains!! When we made it to the hostess stand, we would have to wait for 45-50 minutes. They handed us a buzzer, and off we went to the Border's next door... falling in line with everyone else with a buzzer in hand.
They say location, location, location. What better place to have a popular restaurant than next to a bookstore where one can not only enjoy the wait while perusing the shelves, but have a high probability of shelling out more cash in the process. Bookstore + Restaurant = Symbiotic Business Relationship. I bought two books while "waiting" and was only saved from myself when the buzzer went off.
The Olive Garden has good, solid food. There's nothing spectacular about it. And that's because in order for a chain restaurant to have good, solid food, it has to have a formula. Formulas don't leave room for sparks of brilliance. The Olive Garden's formula for their customer's experience is all-you-can-eat salad & breadsticks + an entree + ancillary menu items. The salad has a good mixture of fresh veggies with a dressing that I'm sure sits in a drum somewhere in the back. But it's made with a formula, so it's consistently good. I'm sure breadsticks come frozen from one source and it has exact directions for oven heating. Consistently soft and warm. Entrees also come with exact directions, if not already partitioned out in exact portions for ease of preparation and to make sure food gets out there quickly.
I had the Stuffed Chicken Florentine, the waiter's favorite. It was stuffed with a combination of Italian cheese and served with a cheese cream sauce with tomatoes and spinach. It was good, but it wasn't great. The flavor lacked complexity and panache. And I guess that's the rub with chain restaurants. There's no risk. You know what you're going to get, and it doesn't deviate much. But that's where I love to eat food with reckless abandonment. With high risk comes high reward. There are several restaurants in Lancaster and its surrounding areas that take risks with their food. And when they get it right, there's nothing formulaic about it.