“When you’re here, you’re family.” At least, that’s what they used to say in Olive Garden TV spots that depicted happy American families gathered around bottomless salad and breadsticks. The slogan may have changed in 2012 (perplexingly to “Go Olive Garden”), but the sentiment hasn’t. While many frantic New Yorkers are scrambling to get a table at Don Angie or I Sodi, my friends and I found ourselves comfortably seated and dressed to the nines late one May evening at the Olive Garden in Times Square. There wasn’t anything to celebrate—we simply wanted a fancy night out on the town. Our inspiration? A bunch of Gen Z-ers on TikTok who are redefining what a fancy night out can be.
Some might turn up their nose at the thought. Going to Olive Garden? While living in one of the most cuisine-rich cities in the world? Of course, I’m not going to make all my meals eggplant parmigiana and Italian rum punches, but it was exciting to challenge what it means to be luxurious in a city that costs so much. Also, as someone who grew up in the suburbs of the south, chain restaurants hold a special place in my heart.