Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta promo: Oops

Olive Garden got restaurant-goers hungry for a deal all revved up: Spend $100 and get a "Never Ending Pasta Pass" that buys you all the pasta, salad, bread and soft drinks you can consume over the next seven weeks.

Darden Restaurant's (DRI) struggling Italian-themed chain announced that only the first 1,000 people who applied for the promotion on its website would get the deal, but a whole lot more wanted to try. So many, in fact, that they crashed the Olive Garden website before the offer even started.

Within 45 minutes of the site becoming operational again, all 1,000 passes were sold. Hundreds of those who failed to get one went to social media, including Olive Garden's Facebook page, to detail how the site took their credit card information but didn't process their order. They were ticked.

It appeared that as good a deal as Olive Garden dangled for those 1,000 people, a lot more than that were left angry at the chain for the chaotic way the promotion played out.

"What we're trying to do is get some attention," Jay Spenchian, Olive Garden's executive vice president of marketing told USA Today. "It's sure to provoke a reaction."

While Olive Garden did succeed in provoking a reaction, was the pummeling it took on social media really worth while? Perhaps, if you believe that any publicity is better than none.

To make matters worse, a lot of the buyers apparently weren't all that interested in the pasta anyway. Instead, they were after the green. One after the other, passes went on sale on eBay (EBAY). At least 50 were available on the site as of Tuesday, with vigorous bidding on several surpassing $200. One had even hit $375.

You'd have to go to Olive Garden a whole lot of times in the allotted 49 days to eat $375 worth of pasta. For $100, there's a lot less pressure.

As for the offer itself, considering how cheap pasta is and that Olive Garden already offers unlimited salad and bread, it really wasn't risking all that much. And allowing pass holders to provide free Coke products to anyone at their table recognized that pass-holders would be more likely to eat when they could go with others, and the others would then become paying customers.

The winners here are those who'll get their money's worth for their $100 passes. The losers are those who are overpaying for them on eBay.

  • Mitch Lipka On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.