It's Saturday night and you want to take your family out to a nice meal, but you have a dilemma: You can't make a decision between Red Lobster or Olive Garden. On the one hand, when you're at the Olive Garden, you're family. That's a nice sentiment, until you remember who's in your family. On the other hand, Red Lobster allows you to dine on fresh seafood despite the fact that you're in landlocked Nebraska.
So which one do you choose? It's time to settle this age-old chain restaurant debate once and for all.
These two images show the general interior design of Olive Garden and Red Lobster. Now, if I told you the Red Lobster is the image on the right, would you believe me?
Well you shouldn't, because the Red Lobster is on the left and the Olive Garden is on the right.
Clearly these two restaurants had the same designer, because it is impossible for anyone to tell the two apart. It's why you believed me so easily when I lied to you about the Red Lobster being the image on the left because it is actuallythe one on the right.
In the past, both Red Lobster and Olive Garden had their waitstaff rocking white uniforms. In 2013, Olive Garden transitioned to these sleek black uniforms and they are a vast improvement. They offer class and sophistication to a place where there once was none.
Red Lobster is sticking with the white uniforms, which provides a large canvas for stains of scampi sauce, lobster tail grease and strawberry daiquiri.
There's not really a debate here, but I'll humor it anyway. Olive Garden has their endless breadsticks, a greasy and garlicky eternity not unlike hell.
Red Lobster has their cheddar bay biscuits, which you can't believe they give away for free. I usually have my wife bring an empty purse, stuff them all in there and then ask the waitress for a second basket of biscuits, which I also stuff into her purse.
And Red Lobster knows their cheddar bay biscuits are the best thing they offer. It's why they save you the pain of having to eat at a Red Lobster by offering cheddar bay biscuit mixfor purchase at any grocery store.
Olive Garden and Red Lobster's appetizers don't venture too far away from one another. Both offer mozzarella sticks, stuffed mushrooms, calamari and bowls of sadness.
Their standouts — Olive Garden's five Italian cheese fonduta (left) and Red Lobster's lobster and langostino pizza (right) — are bread-based and pointless to order when you're already getting bread for free.
Olive Garden comes out of the gate swinging when it comes to lunch specials, allowing customers to create their own pasta bowls for just $11.99. You get to choose from six different pastas, five different sauces and six toppings (though you only get to choose one from each category).
Red Lobster comes at you with a $7.99 lunch special, offering chicken sandwiches, tacos and a wood-grilled cheeseburger.
You wouldn't go to a seafood restaurant to get a burger, and though it's a little pricier, the create your own pasta bowl provides a comforting yet false sense of freedom, much like America itself.
As I've mentioned earlier, if you're going to a seafood place to get anything but seafood, you're wasting your time and money, and a maple-glazed chicken is clearly a lackadaisical effort on Red Lobster's part.
Olive Garden offers you chicken for days, and their chicken piccata — chicken breast topped with lemon garlic butter sauce — is the best they have to offer, which is a lot like the Philadelphia 76ers singing the praises of Nerlens Noel. You're still not going to be great.
Now we're in Red Lobster's wheelhouse, and the variety they offer doesn't disappoint: crab legs, lobster tails, hand-battered fish and a variety of shrimp dishes, to name a few. It's not the best seafood you'll ever eat, but it's passable and affordable.
On the other hand, Olive Garden offers six seafood dishes, four of which are shrimp. They do have tilapia, but if you ask me, their seafood offerings are ti-crap-ia.
You would think Olive Garden has the advantage in the pasta category, but here's the thing: Olive Garden shot themselves in the foot by going full tilt on the pasta. Check out the Garden's menu and click on the chicken, seafood, beef and pork categories. Of the 17 total dishes listed, 10 of them contain pasta. Having been to Italy, I can assure you that they have so much more to offer than pasta.
Olive Garden doesn't even offer a Florentine steak! They have a Tuscan sirloin, which we can all agree is the redheaded stepchild of steaks.
Red Lobster doesn't offer a whole lot in terms of pasta (they generally just throw whatever type of seafood you want over linguini Alfredo), but they do offer one thing that Olive Garden doesn't: pasta with crab meat. If you're going to go out for a night of average pasta, you might as well get some that's slightly above average.
Both restaurants have a section on their menu called "lighter fare," which is strange (it's almost as if both restaurant chains were once owned by the same parent company).
Olive Garden offers plenty of lighter, "healthier" options, like their garlic rosemary chicken, which is the only dish on their lighter fare menu where you can click to see its nutritional info.
Red Lobster offers a wood-grilled sirloin on their lighter fare menu. I don't care if their website claims that everything on the lighter fare menu is no more than 600 calories, if you've ever eaten a steak before, you know there's nothing light about it.
Sugar is sugar, so when it comes to desserts, it's all about the presentation.
Red Lobster has plenty of options to choose from, their best being the brownie overboard. Served in what looks like a margarita glass, it comes with vanilla ice cream, pecans, caramel, fudge and whipped cream. Of course, you could throw a rock and hit a restaurant that offers a dessert in a glass, but then again, you'd probably be arrested when that rock breaks a window and strikes a customer eating their brownie overboard.
Olive Garden offers the chocolate caramel lasagna, and it's exactly what it sounds like. Sponge cake layered with caramel and custard and made to look like a slice of lasagna. It's everything you'd want in a normal lasagna and it's just as healthy.
Both of these restaurants have engaged in mind-baffling promotions, though one proved more successful than the other.
In 2003, Red Lobster offered an all-you-can-eat deal on snow crab legs for $20. What Red Lobster didn't count on was the gluttony of the American people and the market price of crab legs at the time, which was roughly $5 per pound. The chain started losing money as soon as a customer went up for a third plate and, after just seven weeks, the chain lost $3.3 million.
In 2014, Olive Garden offered the never ending pasta pass, a $100 gift card that entitled you to all the pasta your stomach could handle for 7 weeks. Shortly after the promotion was announced, Olive Garden's website crashed. The 1,000 passes that were made available sold out in 45 minutes, with some turning up on eBay for as much as triple the price. Deemed a huge success for Olive Garden and a giant blow to human dignity, Olive Garden offered the promotion again in 2015, with all of the passes selling out in one second.
In February 2016, Red Lobster got a huge boost in sales and PR when queen of the world Beyonce released the song "Formation." The song features the lyric, "When he f--k me good I take his ass to Red Lobster, 'cause I slay." Red Lobster was mentioned 42,000 times on Twitter in a single hour and the restaurant saw a 33 percent increase in sales the weekend of the song's release.
Olive Garden doesn't have a celebrity in their corner per se, but they do have my grandma, who will rave to anyone and everyone about their affordable prices and "to die for" baked ziti.
You're not a celebrity to the rest of the world, Grandma, but I'm still your biggest fan.
It was a close contest, but in the end, Olive Garden squeaked by Red Lobster with a score of 6-5. Congratulations Olive Garden on being the world champion of suburban/middle American dining experiences!