Tales from the Olive Garden: Part Five – The Case of the Missing Shrimp


More memories from my days at the Olive Garden (1990-1991):

The only good thing about working at the Olive Garden back in the day was that I was poor and the food was free.  Well, it wasn’t supposed to be free – but we managed to make it free as many ways as we could.  For instance, the salad, soup and breadsticks were made by us and not the kitchen.  So, this meant easy access.  I ate a lot of soup, salad and breadsticks.  And, by salad, I mean I went by the salad set up in the back (picture basically a big salad bar) and popped things in my mouth as I walked by.  Mostly croutons and black olives.  (In fact, one time we went out after work I drank too many beers and barfed up nothing but beer and black olives in the parking lot.  A lot of black olives.)

Alas, man cannot live on soup, salad and breadsticks alone.  Sometimes you need access to the real food.  This was where it got tricky.  Technically, to buy food we had to order and pay through the cashier in the back and send the ticket through to the kitchen.  We did receive some paltry discount, but frankly the money I was making there wasn’t really conducive to paying even that for lunch and dinner.  So, sometimes we would order extra sides of spaghetti and eat them.  Other times, we would pretend the kitchen lost an order ticket and cry and beg our way into having them make it anway.  Many times I would go into the big refrigerator in the back and scoop out spoonfuls of crab salad on to a plate and eat it right there.  Hey, desperate times call for desperate measures!

But, the best way to get the best food was to eat it right off someone else’s plate – namely the customer’s.  We all did it and we did it all the time.  As you probably know, the Olive Garden is quite corporate – meaning every single little thing about portion size is controlled – down to how many black olives you get in your salad.  (It’s one black olive for how many people at the table – really.)  Stuffed mushrooms?  Supposed to be 5 per order.  How about I eat one, rearrange the plate and you get four?  How would you know?  

There was one dinner that everyone loved – the SPRI – back-house speak for Shrimp Scampi.  It was supposed to have 8 shrimp per order.  Literally in the year or so I worked there, I never saw one complete order go out the door.  Someone would yell “SPRI coming thorugh!” and we would just pick a shrimp or two out as it was heading to the front.  Most of the time the customer got 6 shrimp if he was lucky – sometimes less if not so lucky.

Yes, I know that this is rude to the customer.  But, frankly – it was the Olive Garden’s fault.  Why not give us a shift meal like other restaurants do?  Or give us a real discount?  In their ultimate cheap-ass attitude, both they and the customer lost out.  We are the backbone of the restaurant and we will always find ways around the lame rules if they aren’t fair – something these corporations should think about.

Don’t get me started on how one of my co-workers once managed to stuff enough frozen steaks down his pants to have  a BBQ for 25….

Click here for Part 4