Does Olive Garden Exist In Italy?

As the commercials used to say, when you're here, you're family — but you're definitely not in Italy. With a current tally of over 860 restaurants in the United States, Olive Garden, the chain known for its unlimited salad and breadsticks, regularly clocks in as one of the country's leading casual dining franchises. And, according to the brand itself, it's the leader in the Italian food category. There are Olive Gardens in every U.S. state, as well as Puerto Rico and Guam. The chain exists internationally, too, which may lead you to wonder: Does the Italian-themed restaurant exist in Italy?

The answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, is no. Of Olive Garden's 40 current restaurants outside of the U.S., not one is in Italy. In fact, there are no Olive Garden locations in Europe at all. Most are located in the Americas, and there's one in the Caribbean, two in the Philippines, and one in Saudi Arabia. While Olive Garden dominates Italian-themed chain restaurants in the U.S. and Latin America, those famous, fluffy breadsticks are nowhere to be found throughout most of the world.

Olive Garden was American-made

Fittingly, the wildly popular themed restaurant was founded in a city best known for its theme parks: The first Olive Garden opened in 1982 in Orlando, Florida. It was actually called The Olive Garden until the company dropped "The" in 1998. By the end of the '80s, there were a total of 145 Olive Garden restaurants in the U.S.

The chain was founded by General Mills — yes, the cereal company — and while it may not be authentically Italian in any meaningful sense, that hasn't stopped its soar to supremacy. It's hard to deny: If there's anything Americans love more than carbs, it's a deal. Aside from the perennial offer of unlimited helpings of Olive Garden's addictive breadsticks as well as salad, the chain periodically offers the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion, where diners can get, quite literally, as much pasta as they can eat for a fixed price.

Olive Garden's tenuous ties to the old country

Olive Garden's website and other branding materials once boasted that the company owned a cooking school in Tuscany to train its chefs in authentic Italian cuisine. That is, up until 2011, when a manager spilled the fagioli online and revealed that while staff were sent to Chianti, Tuscany for cultural education and marketing purposes, there was no such thing as the Culinary Institute of Tuscany. Time later confirmed these facts.

Olive Garden's tenuous relationship with authenticity may be the reason the restaurant chain has yet to penetrate its country of origin or anywhere near it. Aside from the fake culinary institute, the brand has been caught fudging its relationship with Italian heritage on other occasions. In 2011, Olive Garden attempted to invent 'authentic' Italian dishes with made-up, Italian-sounding names like "pastachetti" and "soffatelli." While there's something to be said for regarding Italian-American food as a category of its own, it's probable that Italian citizens would find this sort of invention confusing or just downright bizarre.

So while managers and chefs are treated to an Italian field trip on Olive Garden's dime (or at least, they were in the past — it's unknown if this program is still in place), that's about the extent of the brand's presence in the old country. Actual Italians have to hop on a plane to experience the Italian-American staple's Amazing Alfredos! (exclamation point theirs) or its Tour of Italy sampler.