You Had Me at Unlimited Breadsticks and Salad… Dear Olive Garden, We Heart You. Love, Us. xo

It was 4pm on a Sunday afternoon and after a fun visit to the Aquarium, both babies (and hubby) were starting to get a little bit cranky from hunger.  I had already taken chicken out to thaw and was calculating in my head how long of a drive it was to get home and planning in my head the quickest way to make dinner when Hubby suggested we stop somewhere for a bite to eat…with the babies.  Gulp.  Do we dare?  I was feeling brave and up for the challenge provided we went somewhere that we were familiar with so we knew that all of our needs could be met: clean highchair, quick service, good, kid-friendly food, family-friendly atmosphere.  If there was anything we knew for sure it was that we could not wait for a table, wait for food, wait for a bill, basically wait…for anything.  To put it delicately, babies, particularly hungry babies tend to lack patience.  We decided to visit a tried, tested and true favourite, The Olive Garden.

We Canadians LOVE The Olive Garden.  In fact, last summer, our friends waited in line on the bridge for over an hour to cross the border and dine at The Olive Garden.  When they got to the customs booth, the U.S. customs officer asked them where they were headed.  “The Olive Garden.”  The customs officer responded “What is with you Canadians and the Olive Garden?  You waited over an hour on the bridge just to go to the Olive Garden?  Do you not have Italian restaurants in Canada?”  Hilarious.  I don’t know what the fascination is with the Olive Garden other than it is delicious and inexpensive.  Oh, and then the obvious, magical 4 words: unlimited breadsticks and salad.

We pulled into the Olive Garden parking lot.  Even at 4pm, the parking lot was full.  Uh-oh.  This could be problematic.  It was cold and windy so in order to not unload the babies and all of their gear just to be turned around and have to load them back up again, Hubby decided to run in to see how long of a wait it would be for a table…and a high chair.  We had one booster seat in the trunk but would need another one to seat both babes.  Because The Olive Garden is amazing, even with a full parking lot, Hubby walked back towards the car, giving me the signal to start unloading.  There was no wait for a table. “Ahhhh!” (That is the sound of the angels singing.)

To save having a whole load of luggage beside our table, I took a bottle and a sippy cup of milk out of the food cooler and put it in the diaper bag along with a container of Goldfish crackers.  Hubby and I each unbuckled a baby and carried them in against the wind with diaper bag and booster seat in tow.

We were escorted to our table.  There was no high chair there yet.  MAY DAY!  Strapping the booster seat to a restaurant chair requires two hands.  So does holding two babies.  Hubby was holding 9 month old Mr. C and the booster seat.  I was holding 20 month old Miss M and an overstuffed diaper bag.  We decided that I would set up the table while Hubby held on to the kids.  Unfortunately for him Miss M has mastered the art of turning into a wet noodle and instantly melted out of his arms.  Her feet hit the floor and off she ran!  She used to toddle.  Now she sprints… as in knees in the air, arms swinging, sprints.  Dumbfounded by what just happened, Hubby paused.  “Go chase her!” I exclaimed and off he went.  I fastened the booster seat to the chair and eyed the restaurant for a vacant high chair.  Moments later, a server came by and offered to get one.  Phewf.  I walked around the restaurant scanning each section trying to find Hubby and the babies to let him know the table was ready.  I found them and scooped Miss M up.  She kicked and screamed all the way to our table as Hubby followed with a hungry and fussy Mr. C.  The couple sitting at the table next to ours seemed excited to see us take our seats.  They were about as excited as most people are about going to the dentist… or paying their taxes… (You get the idea!)

Luckily for us, we had a coat rack next to our table.  Yes!  At least we didn’t have to have a pile of baby hats, baby ponchos, diaper bag and more beside our table.  We took the babies out of their winter gear and I strapped Miss M into the booster seat while Hubby held Mr. C until the high chair arrived.  Normally Miss M would take the high chair but she needed to be restrained in a bad, bad way so she got the booster.

We were quickly set up with a high chair and menus.  Both babies were incredibly excited to be in the restaurant and started banging their hands on the table and giggling hysterically.  Our server took our drink order and asked if the babies would like some grapes to munch on.  This place is amazing.  Talk about going the extra mile!  He also set Miss M up with a menu that doubled as a colouring page and some crayons.  A shrink-wrapped package of two brand, new crayons.  A germ phobe’s dream!  New crayons!  Not the dirty cup of beaten up, broken crayon pieces that have been chewed on, sucked on, thrown on the floor and stuck up a million kids’ noses already.  What did Miss M do with the crayons as soon as we unwrapped them for her?  She put them in her mouth.  It’s some sort of toddler law.  Kudos to the Olive Garden for recognizing this and investing in individual packages of new, unused crayons.  Both babies were happily entertained with colouring sheets, crayons and grapes.  Hubby and I were actually able to look at the menu and decide on our order by the time our server returned.  We don’t dine out a lot but when we do, that NEVER happens.

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We ordered the current “2 for $25 deal” which includes 2 entrees, unlimited breadsticks and salad and a choice of 1 dessert or 2 small appetizer plates.  (What is not to love about a deal like that?)  We are both partial to savoury over sweet so we went for the crusted Parmesan Roasted Asparagus and the Grilled Chicken Spiedini at the recommendation of our server. Yum! Yum! Yum!  The children’s menu was very affordable as well.  It was $5.69 for a kid’s portion of pasta.  Then you could add a protein (they actually word it that way) for a little over $1 which offered a choice of meatball, sausage, shrimp or chicken.  As I debated between the usual spaghetti or penne options, deciding on which one I would rather chop up today, I noticed something awesome… you can order small shells as a pasta type!  Hallelujah!  A pasta that doesn’t need to be cut up into baby-sized pieces.  It is so refreshing to see a restaurant offer decent meal choices for children.  I get so annoyed when there is only a choice of pizza, cheeseburgers, chicken fingers and fries or a grilled cheese sandwich.  Our kids have a great palette for different foods.  I would rather not give them deep-fried, junky foods when they are very happy with grilled chicken, stir frys, steamed veggies, etc.

Our server offered to order the kids’ meal with the appetizers so it would be ready quickly.  Amazing!  I hadn’t even thought to make this request.  Genius!  He left to put in our order and returned with deliciously fresh Olive Garden salad and garlic breadsticks and complimentary grapes for the babies.  How great is that?  I sliced up the grapes for each baby.  Miss M passed on the grapes to enjoy her first breadstick.  She was so excited to hold something so huge in her hand.  She waved it around giggling, making sure every person around us was impressed with her bread.  She did really well taking little bites of it while Mr. C happily ate his grapes and some Goldfish crackers.

As Hubby and I ate salad and enthusiastically agreed to more salad when our server offered, I realized that I hadn’t packed bibs.  Hubby asked if I had spare shirts that we could put on the kids in place of bibs.  I did have spare shirts but didn’t really see why we would stain one shirt over the other.  So, I stuffed the corner of a napkin down each baby’s shirt and hoped for the best.  The babies were being so well behaved.  They were so excited to be out and were enjoying the attention from the servers as they passed and doted on them as well as the lights and people around us.

The novelty quickly wore off though.  No crayon, no grape, no breadstick and certainly no goldfish cracker were going to amuse them.  They started to get antsy and impatient.  Miss M started to whine a bit until she realized that growling and groaning would be more fun.  I hate when she makes these sounds.  She sounds like a zombie and is so loud, growling and groaning as she rocks back and forth in her high chair.  The only thing that could possibly make this more of a spectacle is that Mr. C has started to mimic everything his “big” sister does.  The zombie growl is no exception.  So there we sat in the middle of a busy restaurant with a 20 month old and 9 month old baby loudly grunting, growling and groaning as they stared at each other without blinking, rocking back and forth in their chairs.  The more we quietly asked them to stop, the louder they would groan.  I could feel the burning eyes of every diner around us.  How embarrassing.

The zombie scene ended when our food arrived.  (Thank goodness!)  Again, I love that I was able to order small pasta shells for the babies’ meal.  This is the first time at a restaurant that I haven’t spent the entire meal trying to cut food into miniature pieces.  It came out of the kitchen that way!  It took less than 10 seconds to cut the meatball up for both babes to share.  They happily devoured their pasta and the meatball.  Since I could serve both babies their dinner by simply spooning “already miniature” pasta onto their trays allowed me to do something I haven’t done in a very long time… eat my food while it was hot!  That never happens!  It was delicious.

olive garden

It can be a little risky and daring to take two babies out to a restaurant.  It can be an extremely stressful and utterly torturous experience… both for us and every diner around us.  This experience was not any of those things.  It was great!  We enjoyed great food, great service in a very family-friendly atmosphere.  Thank you Olive Garden…for the prepackaged crayons, for the complimentary grapes, for offering a second bowl for the one kid’s meal we ordered without us having to ask, for the quick service and for knowing that when we asked for our bill, it meant we needed it NOW before your entire restaurant had to experience a double baby meltdown.  Thank you!  We heart OG!

Olive Garden, whether you like it or not, we will be back!

andbabymakes3imean4 is one mom’s adventures with 2 babies, 11 months apart.  If you liked this post, please subscribe to my blog or like my page on facebook to be the first to know of future posts.  Thanks for reading! xo

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