It's all about the Cheddar Bay biscuits with Red Lobster, right? Well, churning out those deliciously addictive little biscuits is the best thing Red Lobster has ever done in a history of some awesome hits -- and terrible misses. RL just announced it's making some changes by booting non-seafood items off the menu and upping the seafood dishes, perhaps in an attempt to get back to why customers wanted to bother eating there in the first place. Red Lobster seems to be on the decline with folks turning to fast-casual, so it has to make some changes to stay competitive, but with its spotty track record change isn't always good.
Here are five of Red Lobster's menu ideas that it got right -- and wrong. Red Lobster's got ninety-nine problems right now, but a biscuit ain't one.
5. Wrong: The All-You-Can-Eat Crab Fiasco
2003 is a year that will live in Red Lobster infamy. The inglorious all-you-can-eat snow crab legs promotion was literally one of the worst marketing moves in casual dining history, although I'm sure at the time somebody at RL imagined it would be a good idea. This promotion was obviously meant to get butts in seats, and it surely did, the problem being that the all-you-can-eaters parked for hours, ate way more crab legs than projected, and Red Lobster lost fishing boats full of money in almost no time.
That particular promo has not been repeated since. If Red Lobster ever decides to bet against the forces of pure, unadulterated American gluttony again, the next change might be the chain going out of business.
4. Right: Classing Up the Joint -- Just a Little
Part of Red Lobster's problem is that casual dining is on the decline and has been for a while now. They are stuck in rut, unable to make an easy move to fast-casual or rebrand as fine dining. Taking some successful elements of both might at least keep RL on life support; the recent change with plating is at least a nibble at going classier. Red Lobster changed its plating style from each entrée and side being separated and spread out on large plates to round plates with a vertical presentation (stacking up) -- a neato-fab trick used by fine dining restaurants.
Now if RL would steal a page out of the fast-casual playbook and offer some quick-serve lobster rolls at the counter, maybe a few Millennials might actually walk into a Red Lobster sometime.
3. Wrong: The New/Old Menu
Speaking of Millennials and their delicious disposable income, the recent menu revamp has produced some "back-to-actual-seafood-now" dishes, while non-seafood items like tortilla soup and grilled pork chops got the boot, replaced by three new lobster meals. In case you haven't been to RL lately (and trust me, you aren't the only ones) the traditional sampler platter, the Ultimate Feast, just got a makeover with more shrimp -- and a price hike. Sadly, I don't think any of this will help tempt the millennial crowd to detach from Chipotle and spend a dime at RL because younger diners with more global palates don't usually want to hobnob in restaurants that look like fake Disneyworld ships and eat plates of snoozy seafood with lemon wedges and Old Bay as the only perks.
More shrimp is great and all, but menu innovation to reflect international flavors might help customers under fifty connect with the nearest Red Lobster.
For more Red Lobster successes and fails, read on.
2. Right: Lobsterfest
If there is one thing that Red Lobster does get consistently correct, it's the actual lobster. 2014's fest included "Dueling Lobster Tails," an "Ultimate Surf & Turf," and the "Lobster in Paradise," which was a fetching and harmonious plate of split Maine lobster tail fried in coconut batter, grilled shrimp and a lobster/shrimp bake sprinkled with toasted macadamia nuts. During Lobsterfest every year, RL gets more innovative with the menu than any other time or with any other promotion. If that spark of creativity and inventiveness could be prolonged and expanded, there's a damn good chance that RL can boost sagging sales and attract customers outside its usual demographic.
One request: bring back the lobster fondue. That stuff was so tasty it should get its own spot on the permanent menu, forever.
1. Dual Right/Wrong: The Endless Shrimp Special
Every time the endless shrimp promotion at RL rolls around, it's both the greatest -- and the dead worst -- thing ever. On the happy side, eating as many shrimp as humanly possible is a great opportunity to stuff yourself to the cracks for one low, low price. But the darkest dark side of all-you-can-eat shrimp is this: Red Lobster sets you up to fail at eating all the shrimp you can. With all the front-loaded bread, salads, rice pilaf, pasta, fries and baked potatoes, you'll fill up on those first -- trust me, you will -- and be so gut-busted by the time the main attraction comes, you won't want to place one more little tiny shrimp in your mouth.
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Get thee back, Cheddar Bay biscuits of Satan! Without you around, there will be more room for shrimp scampi. Okay, maybe just one biscuit. Just one....