Politely Earnest Olive Garden Review Creates Web Frenzy

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An Olive Garden restaurant in Cincinnati

There’s not that much in Marilyn Hagerty’s Grand Forks Herald restaurant column that would be out of place in a local paper most anywhere in the country. But there’s plenty of people talking about her latest positive review of the new Olive Garden arriving in the North Dakota city.

Because, well, the Olive Garden is the Olive Garden.

“After a lengthy wait for Olive Garden to open in Grand Forks, the lines were long in February. The novelty is slowly wearing off, but the steady following attests the warm welcome,” Hagerty’s column begins. She later writes: “At length, I asked my server what she would recommend. She suggested chicken Alfredo, and I went with that. Instead of the raspberry lemonade she suggested, I drank water.”

(MORE: What Actually Goes On at Olive Garden’s ‘Culinary Institute’ in Tuscany?)

And that’s all it took to go viral. An update on the newspaper’s site today spelled out why it believed the story went has over 107,000 views so far, seeming to chalk up the interest to the idea of a small town breathlessly awaiting the arrival of an Olive Garden.

“The [web responses] were because residents of more metropolitan areas found it amusing that a chain restaurant would be reviewed,” the Herald‘s Ryan Bakken wrote. “In larger markets, reviews are made of more exclusive, high-end eateries.”

But in interviews Hagerty gave today, it didn’t seem like she was overly impressed with the restaurant. She told City Pages that reviewing chain restaurants is just something she does because there really aren’t that many restaurants to review in Grand Forks. “[T]here are about three or four fine dining places, and then what would you do?” she said. “So I decided that I would just write about all the restaurants, including McDonald’s, or wherever people eat.”

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She told the Village Voice that, yes, the opening of the Olive Garden was actually a big deal. “Oh, it was one of the biggest deals in ages,” Hagerty said. “The rumors had been floating around for a decade. … For some reason, people go to the Olive Garden in Fargo and they think it’s just wonderful. So it was greatly anticipated. The rumors went for several years.”

Maybe her positive review was just a way of being polite. As multiple blogs have noted, Duluth News reporter Brandon Stahl talked to a former editor at her newspaper who told him Hagerty’s fewer comments about the Italian restaurant’s actual food was a giveaway: “her readers will recognize that as a fairly negative review since she spent a lot more time on the ambience than the food.”

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