olive gardenWhen a restaurant can't even change its bowls you really have to wonder about the clientele. Apparently whenever Olive Garden tries serving its unlimited refills salad on NEW bowls diners revolt. Fans want those translucent, flower-shaped, plastic bowls. "There is a lot of love for that bowl," says Olive Garden exec Dan Kiernan.

Poor Olive Garden, always trying to walk the narrow line between pleasing the picky eaters and appealing to foodies. It's not just the bowls. Customers wouldn't order the gnocchi until the restaurant plunked them into soup and started calling them "traditional Italian dumplings." They've said no to pesto and capers, and even to Gorgonzola ravioli with shrimp. I know an adventurous eater like me should be rolling my eyes at this point -- but actually, I totally get what Olive Garden is trying to do.

STAY IN BUSINESS. Okay, but seriously, Americans are becoming more adventurous eaters, just slowly. Ever. So. Slowly. Restaurants like Olive Garden are trying to keep up with the daring diners -- but they're also trying not to leave Grandma behind. If they just sprinted ahead with the "culinarily forward" we could see a dining chasm as deep as the one that divides us politically.

That's right. Olive Garden is trying to be the Independent Party of the food world. The table that brings (almost) everyone together. They'll get us all to eat Gorgonzola and teach us what gnocchi is eventually. But we're all on this food adventure together, and we're not leaving anyone behind. Put another way, Olive Garden is like the patient parent who pushes their kids just the right amount, but never too much.

You have to give credit to independent, small restaurant owners for really pushing restaurants forward. They are the reason why I have someplace to eat when I visit my family in Salt Lake City. But while I still don't want to eat at Olive Garden, I appreciate how they push small changes on mainstream eaters -- and make us all feel "safe" trying new things.

Are you an adventurous foodie or do you like more familiar food?

 

Image via marbla123/Flickr