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Why Olive Garden's unlimited pasta pass is like throwing spaghetti at a wall

Olive Garden's unlimited pasta pass could hurt the chain

Folks looking to get their hands on Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Pass had to act fast on Thursday. The coveted promotion sold out in less than a second this year.

The passes went sale at 2 p.m. ET on Sept. 15, and sold out immediately despite Olive Garden bumping up the number of passes it offered ten-fold to 21,000 this year.

The promotion is might with much excitement, but YouGov BrandIndex said that during the last two years, the Never Ending Pasta deal has actually caused the brand's perception to dip.

"Maybe the third time will be the charm for Olive Garden's Never Ending Pasta Pass promotion this Thursday," Ted Marzilli, CEO of the research firm, wrote in a statement. The last two annual deals generated "negative or indifferent consumer perception scores respectively, even if people talked about the brand a lot more each time."

YouGov surveyed 65,000 adults aged 18 and older since 2014 to gather information about the restaurant's annual promotion. The respondents answer a variety of questions that help measure the positive or negative sentiment around a brand and determine the percentage of customers who would consider purchasing from the brand in the future.

The firm noted that the last two promotions barely moved the needle for Olive Garden in terms of purchase consideration, a key metric for potential sales revenue.

In fact, the quick sellout of the 1,000 pasta passes offered in 2014 left a bad taste in some consumers' mouths. According to YouGov, consumer perception levels were halved after customers were unable to get in on the pasta action.

As for 2015's promotion, YouGov noted that the 2,000 pasta passes and the addition of the family pasta pass helped keep buzz about Olive Garden positive, but only just.

As for whether 2016's iteration of Never Ending Pasta will boost perception for the brand, only time will tell.

"The goal of Never Ending Pasta Pass has always been about reaching and engaging our most loyal fans," a spokeswoman for Olive Garden told CNBC. "And they have continuously demonstrated their enthusiasm and excitement for our Never Ending Pasta Pass and Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion."

(UPDATE: This story was updated to reflect the results of Thursday's sale.)