Monday, April 30, 2012

Eating Gluten-Free at The Olive Garden

Not Pasta, but Salad

Several weeks ago, as our visiting family members were heading to the airport, we had the chance for one more lunch with them. The kids were so excited to spend a bit more unexpected time with their cousins!

We had many options for restaurants on the way to the airport, but a few were easier to get to for all of us.

And only a couple of those have gluten-free menus.

The Olive Garden had already been suggested as a good option for the departing family members, so we went for that.

Of course, I quickly looked online to scope out their gluten-free menu. Yep, it was still there.

We had a plan. We had a restaurant where we could meet. We had a place for me to eat gluten-free.

Olive Garden on UrbanspoonSounds like a winner....

Gluten-Free at The Olive Garden

The Olive Garden does have a gluten-free menu. Here it is, as part of their nutritional information.

The menu tells me to order my salad without croutons, but it doesn't say anything about the salad dressing. When I ordered and explained to the waiter what I needed, she informed me that I could not have any of the salad dressings, but could bring oil and vinegar. I said that would be fine.

But why isn't there a warning about the salad dressing right next to "without croutons"?

My salad arrived in a separate bowl from everyone else's salad. I appreciate that. But then I looked in their bowl. Their salad bowl came with olives and tomatoes and purple onions and peperoncini.

See that picture at the top of this post? That's my salad bowl.

No olives. No tomatoes. No purple onions. No peperoncini.

I got lettuce and purple cabbage. That's it.

Here it is with oil and balsamic vinegar.

Oops. I forgot to mention that I got a sliver of carrot.

Since when are olives, tomatoes, onions and peperoncini laden with gluten? Why couldn't I have had those too?

That's disappointing.

The rest of my party was given a lunch menu, which provided light lunch options. Those were not available on my gluten-free menu. I was offered full dinner options only.

Appetizers or soup would have been ideal during lunchtime. But I didn't have those options.

Since I had to order a full dinner option, I ended up being, by far, the most expensive. And it was too much food anyways. That makes for some expensive leftovers that I didn't want to have to have.

On the bright side of things, the grilled chicken tasted good, laden with herbs.

And they know how to do zucchini and summer squash right. These were grilled too, and to perfection. Crunchy on the outside, not too mushy on the inside. Nice.

Since I hadn't been all that hungry to begin with and I wasn't given the option of something less than a full dinner, here's what I had left to take home.

The grilled food was good, but overall I was a bit disappointed.

The menu should have mentioned not ordering salad dressing. The gluten-free salad could have come with olives, tomatoes, and onions, at least. The gluten-free menu should have offered some smaller, lunch-sized options.

But those are really secondary issues.

On the up side, I didn't get sick. This is always the first priority.

So, despite room for improvement, The Olive Garden is a place that is capable of serving a safe, delicious, gluten-free meal.  Go out and find one soon!


  1. That server must not have been trained properly! I work there, too. You definitely could have had our dressing - it is gluten free. The menu was right, not the server. All you needed was no croutons and you should have gotten everything else on your salad as well. Hopefully next time you get a more knowledgeable server!

  2. Is gluten free more expensive there?

  3. The broccoli is boiled in pasta water, I'm shocked you didn't get sick from that. The salad dressing is safe, but I always ask for it in the pre-packed to-go cups because often the scooped salad dressing has croutons dropped into it (so said one very knowledgable server I had once). -Amanda Y.


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