In November 2023, a multitude of different online advertisements were displayed to users on Facebook and Instagram that each showed a photo of an Olive Garden restaurant. At the top of the photos was the word "CLOSING," which was displayed with red, capital letters. The two captions of the ads read either "Say Goodbye To Breadsticks Forever?" or "Closing Time: All The Restaurant Chains Closing."
The ads appeared to hint that there was major news afoot for Olive Garden, possibly that the Italian restaurant chain would be closing all of its locations, going bankrupt or going out of business for other reasons.
The ads were appearing on both Facebook and Instagram.
All of the ads led to an article on the Investing.com website. The headline of the article read, "Last Call: These Chain Stores Are Closing Locations in 2023."
The article listed 216 different businesses, most of which appeared to be American brands. Under each business name were several paragraphs describing whether the companies would be closing some or all of its locations. In other words, there were hundreds of paragraphs in what truly was a massive article.
Olive Garden appeared in the story at number 191. That section of the article read as follows:
191. Olive Garden
Year Established: 1982
Store Closures: Over 40 locations
Olive Garden has announced the closure of 45 locations nationwide, mainly due to a decline in customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these Olive Garden locations were smaller, older locations located in California, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.
In addition to this round of closings, the chain is planning to reduce its overall restaurant count by another 40 locations within the next two years. These locations span several states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois and Ohio. All affected employees will receive transition assistance as part of their separation packages from Olive Garden. This closure was met with much sadness by customers who frequented these locations and expressed their fond memories in social media posts and articles.
The article did not reveal that the Olive Garden restaurant chain would be closing down. The ads were false clickbait that led to the massive (and possibly outdated) article, as we noted as the top of this fact check.
Olive Garden Rep Says the Rumor Is 'False'
The lengthy article claimed that Olive Garden planned to close 85 of its over 900 locations in the future.
To find out more, we contacted Darden Restaurants, the company that owns Olive Garden, to ask about the claim.
By email, Jessica Dinon, the company's senior director of communications in social media and creative services, told us, "I’m not sure where the original information came from but I can assure you it is false."
Olive Garden Growth, by the Numbers
In our research, we found that Olive Garden was highly profitable for Darden Restaurants, and that the Italian restaurant chain had grown its number of restaurant locations annually over the last several years.
Olive Garden locations in the U.S. numbered 858 in 2018, 867 in 2019, 871 in 2020, 877 in 2021, 887 in 2022 and 906 in late 2023, all according to data provided on Darden Restaurants' website.
Why Do These Clickbait Ads Exist?
As for the Facebook and Instagram ads and the Investing.com story, the reason why these kinds of ads and articles exist is usually for something called advertising arbitrage. Advertising arbitrage is a strategy in which an advertiser hopes to make more money on ads displayed in a lengthy article (or slideshow article) than it would cost to display an initial clickbait ad meant to attract users to the article.