Over the years, Olive Garden has become one of my more reliable mainstays for Italian food. I’m sure that there are a million little Italian joints that serve better pasta in a homier atmosphere, but I’d probably have to go through a lot of bad alfredo to find them, and in Seattle, the Olive Garden is right by the mall and better for you than the Saltcake, I mean Cheesecake, Factory. And you can only eat so much Panda in a day, so we go there quite frequently when we are shopping.
At the Olive Garden, for those of you who do not partake, they bring the table breadsticks and salad when everyone orders an entrée. In the past, the number of breadsticks has far outstripped both the number of people at the table and the FDA guidelines for breadsticks per week. A party of two might receive six or even seven breadsticks. Many of these ended up in the trash, or possibly being consumed by a hungry waiter as they hustled through the night to provide the “Tour of Italy” to people who may have never left the state.
But one day, in late 2008, tragedy struck. There started to be only three or four breadsticks in the basket, hidden by the napkin so you couldn’t complain before your waitress had zoomed off. And then, sometime in 2009, a basket appeared on our table with only two breadsticks. That’s right, one breadstick per person. We wondered aloud – had we finally reached the nadir of our economic stagnation, or would the economy never recover, and we would be forced into the fading glitter of a lost empire, as France or England had gone before us? From then on, we never bothered listening to the financial reports.
We just went to Olive Garden and checked the breadstick count. It hovered between two and three for months. The waitstaff wouldn’t suggest more breadsticks, you had to specially ask. We worried for the future of our children and American supremacy. We feared that the stimulus was too small, that the bank bailout too expensive, that none of the economic policies intended to keep the Great Recession from being The Great Depression: Now With Bears! (see note below) were working. Then, then it happened. We went to the Olive Garden and there were five, yes FIVE, breadsticks on the table for our party of two. Rejoice for our time of lamentation was over.
I suspect that Olive Garden corporate did NOT hand down an edict that the breadsticks should be cut but it is an easy place to eliminate waste on a restaurant by restaurant basis. Perhaps the policy should always have been to offer one person and then refill. It would certainly have had the side benefit of helping to reduce the diabetes rate in the country. But this is America and ostentatious consumption has been a display of our prosperity for many a decade. So the breadsticks remained plentiful in the years that Americans used their home equity to buy jet skis and their credit cards to buy gold.
On our last trip to the Olive Garden there were six breadsticks. I don’t know if the Breadstick Index is a leading or lagging indicator of the economy but I’m hopeful that this means we are on the road to recovery.
(Note: The sequel to Kinectimals, an Xbo360 game where you raise a pet large cat on a strange island with floating dragonfly as your guide is not called Kinectimals 2, as you would expect, but is Kinectimals: Now With Bears!)