Where Everyone Can Be Happy

. June 3, 2014.

People don’t share the same goals when they go out to eat. Some may be looking for low-calorie or gluten-free menus, others want to save money, others search for ample kids’ options, and then some may just want to sit down without a care in the world.

“The menu has really changed in the last three months or so,” said Brad Stricker, service manager at Olive Garden in Findlay. “The company does things based on guest feedback and they really want to cater to a variety of people.”

The menu possibilities at Olive Garden seem endless, and there is definitely variety.

Everyone can be happy

For dinner, the restaurant offers its “classic recipe” menu, several pizza and flatbread options, as well as seafood, chicken, beef and pork selections. There are “lighter Italian fare” and gluten-free selections, and a “small plates” menu, created as an inexpensive way to sample multiple dishes. For $9.99, one can try out the Cucina Mia menu, where diners can choose their own pasta, homemade sauce, and topping. All dinners come with unlimited breadsticks and salad.

Kids eat at Olive Garden for only $5.49. There are four main dish options, or, like the Cucina Mia menu for adults, kids can choose their pasta, sauce and meat. Kids’ meals come with a side and drink and they can always join in on the never-ending salad and breadsticks.

My 8-year-old son ordered the chicken fingers and pasta, and wanted his chicken on the side with some ranch for dipping. He happily devoured all of that, plus garlic mashed potatoes, salad and breadsticks.

My 5-year-old daughter went for spaghetti with a side of grapes. She was a real fan of the breadsticks and couldn’t be happier when our waitress grated fresh cheese over her salad and spaghetti. Her eyes widened with joy as they were saying, “Please, never stop!” She also liked the all-you-can-eat idea and was hoping it worked with grapes.

Nearly hidden by the kids’ excitement, my husband quietly ordered the classic lasagna. It disappeared quickly.

On the light side

I was pleasantly surprised by the “lighter Italian fare” menu and ordered the baked tilapia with shrimp, served with steamed broccoli. Nutritional information for everything on the menu is available on the Olive Garden website. I have been trying to be more aware of the calorie content of foods so that I make better choices, and this made it splendidly easy.

Also with my meal, I enjoyed a glass of peach raspberry iced tea (with real floating peach slices!), a serving of the crisp, fresh garden salad and a breadstick. By my estimation, I consumed a little more than 600 calories for dinner but left having eaten a full, delicious meal. My main dish was nicely cooked, and squeezing lemon throughout the dish really added a tasty dimension to the flavor.

We all found just what we wanted at Olive Garden. I had a great, low-calorie meal, my husband got the classic meal he loves, and the kids were treated to all of the variety you could hope for. The service was excellent and the setting pleasant.

Prior to this, the last time we had been to Olive Garden as a family was when my son was three years old and we were trying to just get out for a somewhat anxious meal before our baby girl woke up in her car seat. We will be back much sooner this time to sample more of the enticing menu – I’m sure we can come up with a lot more dining goals.