11 Things You Might Not Know About Red Lobster
This American seafood chain has been serving up the catch of the day since the late ‘60s.
1. BEFORE RED LOBSTER, THERE WAS THE GREEN FROG.
Red Lobster owner Bill Darden was new to the restaurant business—and adulthood—when he started his first restaurant: at just 19, he launched a small lunch counter named The Green Frog in 1937. The Waycross, Ga., restaurant seated less than 30 customers at a time and employees delivered "service with a hop." After several successful years with The Green Frog, Darden ventured further into restauranteering by buying up other businesses throughout Georgia. He purchased rights to franchise Howard Johnson restaurants (which came with hotel accommodations), and in 1963, Darden purchased Gary’s Duck Inn, a seafood restaurant that had a successful run in Orlando. By 1968, Darden had developed plans to launch his own seafood kitchen, and the first Red Lobster restaurant opened its doors in Lakeland, Fla.
2. THERE ARE CONFLICTING STORIES ABOUT HOW RED LOBSTER GOT ITS NAME.
From The Green Frog to Red Lobster, it appears that Darden had something for naming restaurants after colorful animals. But, apparently, the Red Lobster name took some thought. Darden’s wife, Mary, said the name just popped up during a brainstorming session. “Red means its fresh—that it’s cooked exactly the way it should be cooked. So when you put those two names together, what could be a better name for an iconic seafood restaurant?” she said in 2014. But other sources say the name came from a printer creating Red Lobster’s first menus, as a play off the name The Green Frog.
3. GENERAL MILLS OWNED RED LOBSTER FOR A WHILE.
Within two years of serving up its first lobsters, Darden had grown the restaurant from a single location to three restaurants. In 1970, General Mills (the same company that makes Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and Cheerios) was looking to expand into the restaurant market, and Red Lobster seemed like a promising scoop. General Mills purchased the chain and put Darden in the managerial seat. General Mills held onto Red Lobster for 25 years, until the company created the subsidiary Darden Restaurants, Inc. in 1995.
4. THE CHEDDAR BAY BISCUITS DIDN'T SHOW UP UNTIL THE 1980s.
Can you imagine a trip to Red Lobster without a few baskets of the famed Cheddar Bay Biscuits? The legendary biscuits were first introduced in 1988 as an alternative to the restaurant’s hushpuppies. Executive Chef Kurt Hankins latched onto biscuits since they were a family-friendly comfort food, and they were so well-liked during test runs that the cheddar biscuits were introduced nationally and soon developed a cult-like following. But, they didn’t have the Cheddar Bay name—the original biscuits were called “freshly baked, hot cheese garlic bread” before getting an official name five years later. Now, Red Lobster bakes a new batch of biscuits every 15 minutes and doles out more than one million biscuits per day.
5. LOVE POPCORN SHRIMP? YOU CAN THANK RED LOBSTER FOR THAT.
Red Lobster lays its pinchers on the title of popcorn shrimp inventor, though the chain doesn’t elaborate on how the prawn poppers came to be. Shrimp became a popular seafood choice in the 1970s, right at the time when Red Lobster was growing its young chain, and though it had traditionally been served as shrimp cocktail, the new breaded and fried version presented a much more manageable way to plate and eat seafood. Joe Lee, one of Darden’s original partners, says Red Lobster made a lot of Americans—especially Midwesterners who didn't have immediate access to seafood—fans: “We also ... introduced snow crab and calamari to Middle America. We introduced hush puppies to Chicago,” he added.
6. NOT SURE HOW TO EAT ENOUGH SHRIMP? SOME PEOPLE ARE PROS.
Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp promotion helps shrimp lovers get their fix. The deal? For $16.99, customers can order any shrimp dish, and as many as they like, in one sitting. If you’re considering how to get the most out of your mealtime investment, online guides offer advice for maximizing your stomach space (namely, avoid the Cheddar Bay Biscuits and don’t eat sides). But if you’re wondering how Red Lobster stays profitable during Endless Shrimp season, it’s pretty simple: no one wants to eat alone. To break even on your shrimp meal, you’d have to eat about three pounds of shrimp (about 100 pieces). But, since most people eat with family or friends, the restaurant makes more money off groups even if one person binges. Just remember to tip your server extra—he or she likely made quite a few extra trips to the kitchen for your entrees!
7. THE ENDLESS SNOW CRAB PROMOTION THOUGH? RED LOBSTER LOST MONEY ON THAT ONE.
In 2003, Red Lobster held a $20 Endless Snow Crab promotion, similar to Endless Shrimp. Unfortunately, Red Lobster marketing underestimated how many people the promo would bring in, how long they would stay, and how much crab they would order (spoiler: tons of it). To make the situation worse, wholesale snow crab prices climbed at the same time, and Red Lobster immediately began to lose profits. Chain president Edna Morris left Red Lobster following the snow crab debacle (though the company insisted the timing was coincidental), and Red Lobster hasn’t tried the snow crab special since.
8. THE WORLD'S FIRST COMMERCIAL LOBSTER FARM WAS CREATED FOR RED LOBSTER.
Darden Restaurants announced its plans to create Darden Aquafarm, the world’s first commercial lobster fishery, in 2012. The farm is planned sit off the coast of Malaysia, and would supply lobster and other seafood for Red Lobster and its sister restaurants. But creating the fishery isn’t an easy feat; the farm will cost about $650 million and won’t operate at full capacity until around 2029. Maine fisherman didn’t respond well to the company’s aquafarm plans, specifically because of how lobsters would be presented by the chain. The well-known Maine lobster can only be found in the Gulf of Maine, and a different species of lobsters—a spiny rock lobster that only has meat in its tail—would be farmed in Malaysia.
9. ONE OF ITS MEALS IS CONSIDERED THE UNHEALTHIEST OF ALL FAST FOOD.
That’s because it contains more than 2700 calories in one sitting. The Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2015 Xtreme Eating Awards named one of Red Lobster’s “Create Your Own Combination” meals as one of the worst things you could be eating. The combination of Walt’s Favorite Shrimp, Shrimp Linguine Alfredo and Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp comes with a side of fries, a salad, and of course, Cheddar Bay Biscuits. The combo also includes 6530 milligrams of sodium. Red Lobster fought back against the accusation of worst-thing-to-eat-ever, saying that the Create Your Own Combination deal could be reworked with healthier meal options based on a diner’s preferences. Or, you could just add a 890-calorie Lobsterita and bump that calorie count well over 3500.
10. PEOPLE PANICKED WHEN THERE WERE RUMORS OF RED LOBSTER CLOSING.
Darden Restaurants announced its decision to sell Red Lobster and all 705 locations in 2013. Naturally, seafood lovers feared the chain would go out of business, and a rumor frenzy prompted panic that Red Lobster would be closing its doors for good; some news outlets even reported the chain’s supposed closure as fact. Darden ended up selling the chain in 2014 for $2.1 billion in an effort to stem losses, and with new leadership, the restaurant is still serving up crustaceans.
11. RED LOBSTER'S THE PLACE TO WORK BEFORE YOU MAKE IT BIG.
Several celebrities paid their bills with day jobs at Red Lobster before hitting the big time. Comedian Chris Rock said he worked in the back of the restaurant clearing plates. “I used to scrape shrimp into the garbage can and then load up the dishwasher. That was my real job,” he's told audiences. Anna Nicole Smith, former Playmate of the Year, worked at a Red Lobster before she auditioned for Playboy. And rapper Nicki Minaj was employed at several Red Lobster restaurants in New York, but was fired multiple times for her poor customer service skills—including a situation where she chased guests into the parking lot for stealing her pen. But like most Red Lobster patrons, even Minaj said her favorite thing about the seafood chain is the cheddar biscuits.