14 Secrets Of Red Lobster You'll Wish You Knew Sooner

Since its establishment in 1968, Red Lobster has gained a reputation for generous portions, affordable prices, and irresistible all-you-can-eat deals. That's probably the extent of your Red Lobster knowledge, but beneath the surface of America's celebrated chain seafood restaurant lies a treasure trove of secrets waiting to be unveiled. For instance, have you ever wondered why you always receive an extra Cheddar Bay Biscuit? Or why the Endless Snow Crab promotion was never repeated?

Fear not — we've got the answers to these intriguing questions and more. Join us as we delve into the world of off-menu delights and unveil healthy, flavorful dishes to order when you're watching your waistline. You'll also discover which items to approach with caution and learn how to unlock a sea of freebies by enrolling in the My Red Lobster Rewards program. Make sure to read these tips before setting sail on your next Red Lobster adventure. Your curiosity, taste buds, and wallet will thank you for it.

The Endless Shrimp promotion wasn't a slam dunk

Launched in 2004, Red Lobster's Ultimate Endless Shrimp promotion lives up to its name, offering patrons an all-you-can-eat experience with the freedom to order unlimited shrimp dishes. The deal is simple: customers start by choosing two shrimp dishes from a selection that includes Walt's Favorite Shrimp, Garlic Shrimp Scampi, Garlic Grilled Shrimp Skewer, Shrimp Linguini Alfredo, and Coconut Shrimp. From there, they can continue ordering single servings from any of the five options on the unlimited menu. Along with the entrées, customers also receive a side dish and Cheddar Bay Biscuits.

Originally introduced as a seasonal fall promotion, Red Lobster announced that it would add Endless Shrimp to the permanent menu in June 2023. The goal was to boost foot traffic in the chain's 700-plus restaurants between July and December, a period typically characterized by sluggish sales. Initially priced at $20, the offer proved immensely popular. However, faced with substantial operating losses — amounting to $11 million in the third quarter of 2023 and $20 million for the whole year — Red Lobster knew something needed to change. Rather than scrap the idea altogether, the chain increased the price of Endless Shrimp in the fourth quarter of 2023, first to $22, then settling at $25. Although slightly more expensive, Red Lobster's Ultimate Endless Shrimp is still an attractive deal and one that's likely to stick around.

It's also not a very good deal

Despite experiencing high inflation, budget-conscious consumers didn't seem overly concerned when Red Lobster announced that it was increasing the price of its Ultimate Endless Shrimp promotion in 2023. Originally priced at $20, the chain first upped the price to $22 before landing at $25. The lack of customer reaction is likely because it's still an attractive deal, but as with many things, the numbers can lie.

While the shrimp dishes are indeed endless, you've got to pay attention to the amount of shrimp you're eating. In particular, dishes like Garlic Shrimp Scampi and Shrimp Linguini Alfredo offer more pasta and sauce than actual crustaceans. On top of that, you've got to factor in the impact of the side dish and Cheddar Bay Biscuits that accompany each order. If you're not careful, it's easy to fill up on these cheaper extras. To truly capitalize on the promotion, you'd have to eat something like three pounds of shrimp. This varies based on the type of shrimp dish, but it works out to about two to four servings beyond your initial order. Some people may be able to put away that amount of food, but for the rest of us, don't expect to come out ahead money-wise.

Endless Snow Crab was an even bigger disaster

Although the Ultimate Endless Shrimp promotion isn't exactly a big moneymaker for Red Lobster, it's not the worst financial decision the chain has ever made. That honor belongs to the Endless Snow Crab debacle of 2003. Priced at $22.99, Endless Crab caused Red Lobster to lose $3.3 million during the seven-week promotion. These smaller losses led to a massive sell-off of Darden Restaurants (Red Lobster's parent company at the time) shares, something that wiped out $400 million of Red Lobster's stock value in a week. In addition to the financial losses, Red Lobster's then-CEO, Edna Morris, was asked to step down in the wake of the disaster.

While it's true that everyone makes mistakes and that the restaurant industry is incredibly volatile, Red Lobster leadership could have easily seen the issues with the crab promotion. For starters, company executives seem to have completely underestimated Americans' passion for inexpensive, all-you-can-eat offers. The chain could have supported second or even third helpings, but as anyone who's seen Americans eat knows, many took the promotion to the extreme. To add insult to injury, snow crab was priced incredibly high in the early 2000s (around $5) due to U.S. government restrictions on crab harvesting. The offer might have worked at $3 per pound, but at $5, it was simply impossible for Red Lobster to make the promotion sustainable, let alone profitable.

Employees have been known to play with the food

Whether we want to or not, we've all heard horror stories about restaurant employees playing with our food. Whether it's the annoyed line cook who spits in plates when they come back for reheating or the disgruntled waiter who smears boogers on sandwiches, there's no end to the horror stories to come out of restaurant kitchens. Thankfully, we haven't heard anything like this happening at Red Lobster, but there have been rumors about waitstaff handling crustaceans in ways sure to make you cringe.

For instance, an unnamed Red Lobster employee confessed that bored staffers have been known to organize lobster races. These unconventional competitions involve pulling lobsters from the tank and encouraging them to scuttle toward an improvised finish line. There's no prize for the winner, except for bragging rights and a reprieve from boredom. The same employee also mentioned that cooks sometimes fool around with lobsters before tossing them in the pot, something that's led to painful pinches.

There are plenty of unlisted menu items

These days, it seems as though every chain restaurant has secret menu items. For example, Starbucks' secret menu features Oreo and Twix Frappuccinos, while Chipotle's offers up a Quesarito, i.e. a burrito wrapped in a quesadilla. Red Lobster is no exception to this tradition, serving off-menu drinks, desserts, and entrées to in-the-know diners.

Starting with the drinks, you might find Red Lobster's standard menu options a bit lacking. Sure, there are plenty of margaritas and sangrias, but what if you want something different? Have no fear because the chain has a dedicated cocktail menu. Each restaurant also has a fully-stocked bar and a trained bartender, so if you don't see something on the menu, you can probably still order it.

As for dessert, you're not limited to heavy options like cheesecake or brownie sundaes. Instead, you can order a scoop of vanilla ice cream with or without sauce, or indulge in a fresh fruit salad. Finally, in terms of entrées, Red Lobster allows customers to order previously available specials no longer listed on the menu. As long as the necessary ingredients are available, the restaurant is more than willing to prepare one of your old favorites.

The list of items not to order is long

We're not in the habit of throwing shade, especially when it comes to a restaurant chain as beloved as Red Lobster. However, for the sake of transparency, we have to be honest about dishes that don't make the grade. While taste is subjective, we're confident in highlighting several Red Lobster menu items worth avoiding. Some, like the Ultimate Feast and the Admiral's Feast, are simply too large, regardless of how hungry you are. Don't believe us? The Ultimate Feast comes with your choice of two entrées and two shrimp dishes, plus a side dish. It's a substantial amount for one meal, and since reheating seafood is less than ideal, leftovers are off the table.

Crab Linguine Alfredo is another dish to avoid; the crab lacks flavor, and the creamy alfredo sauce fails to elevate this uninspiring pasta dish. We also suggest steering clear of the steak selection. Red Lobster excels in seafood preparation, so the limited steak cuts may leave you wanting in comparison. Lastly, the Brownie Overboard dessert is best skipped. While we adore chocolate, this iteration, adorned with chocolate chips and chocolate sauce, proves overwhelming, especially after a hearty seafood meal.

Most of the seafood isn't fresh

This revelation isn't that surprising, especially given the widespread presence of Red Lobster locations throughout the United States and Canada. Add to that the fact that you can order just about any type of seafood, any time of the year, and it makes sense that much of the chain's seafood and fish arrives frozen. Initially, this may not sound ideal, but consider this — the seafood is frozen shortly after being caught. In other words, the mussels and lobsters aren't sitting on the back of a boat for days before hitting the deep freeze. They're frozen in their freshest state, ensuring that you get the most flavorful seafood possible, whether you live close to an ocean or not.

For those who prefer to steer clear of frozen seafood, an alternative is to explore the Today's Catch section on the menu. Items labeled as Today's Catch are delivered to the restaurant without freezing. Another fresh choice is the Live Maine Lobster. Live lobsters are taken from holding tanks inside each restaurant just before preparation. With that said, there's no telling how long the lobsters have been in the tank, so really, the fresh fish is the most reliable fresh option.

You'll always get an extra Cheddar Bay Biscuit

Tell us if this sounds familiar: you and three friends meet up at Red Lobster, ready to indulge in some tasty seafood and fruity drinks. Before your entrées come, the waitperson deposits a basket of steaming Cheddar Bay Biscuits on the table. You count five in total. Why bring an odd number when there are only four of you? Why not make it an even six? Questions like these have been plaguing Red Lobster fans ever since Cheddar Bay Biscuits made their way onto the menu in 1992.

Well, wonder no longer because we're about the spill the tea on this quirky practice. According to a former Red Lobster employee, company policy states that waitstaff should give diners one extra biscuit. The logic behind this is that each person gets a biscuit. Once everyone has indulged, the diners get to duke it out over the remaining biscuit. While it may inspire some feuds, the policy is designed to start conversations. Considering just how much people have to say about this policy, it's safe to declare it a success.

The Cheddar Bay Biscuits are endless

Before you start a fistfight with your best friend over the extra Cheddar Bay Biscuit, rest assured that you can simply order more. Yes, you read that correctly. Dine-in customers are given an unlimited supply of these irresistibly cheesy bread bites. This generous policy has been in place ever since Cheddar Bay Biscuits made their way onto Red Lobster's menu in 1992, back when they went by the name freshly baked, hot cheese garlic bread.

With that said, there was a bit of confusion surrounding this policy in February 2020. At that time, several news outlets sounded the alarm about an alleged biscuit policy change. According to these reports, Red Lobster was going to limit the number of biscuits to two per entrée. Concerned biscuit enthusiasts were directed to the restaurant's updated online menu as evidence. Fortunately, these reports turned out to be wrong, at least in part.

In an email, Red Lobster clarified that the two-biscuit limit only applied to takeout orders. Understandably, providing a neverending supply of biscuits for to-go orders would be impractical, hence the imposition of the cap. To-go patrons wanting more of those cheesy biscuits can add either a half-dozen or a full dozen to their order for a fee. Again, this policy does not impact the unlimited biscuit policy for dine-in customers, so feel free to reorder to your heart's content.

You get serious freebies by joining My Red Lobster Rewards

Not all rewards programs are created equal, but fortunately, Red Lobster's My Red Lobster Rewards stands out in the sea of ho-hum programs. One of its key advantages is its simplicity. As their program motto indicates, all you have to do is "Eat. Earn. Repeat." Upon downloading the app and setting up your profile, you immediately earn a 10% discount on your next dine-in order, along with 12 free Cheddar Bay Biscuits with your next to-go order.

Once you've provided your contact information and completed your profile, you ascend to Gold Member status. Here, every dollar you spend at Red Lobster earns you a point. At 125 points, you unlock a free reward with your next order. The perks don't stop there. You're also treated to birthday rewards, quarterly Special Catch rewards, and the opportunity to double your points every Bonus Tuesday. Hitting 300 points annually propels you to the coveted Platinum Member status, where you enjoy a complimentary dessert on the anniversary of your Platinum status, along with double points for every order placed on Red Lobster's website. With such enticing benefits, there's no reason not to join, so download the app now and start racking up points.

Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp is the dish to order

While the restaurant goes by the name Red Lobster, one of the tastiest offerings on the menu features a different crustacean altogether. Enter the Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp. Whether you opt for the entrée size with a choice of two sides or the appetizer portion, you'll be treated to generously sized, hand-dipped, deep-fried shrimp accompanied by Red Lobster's distinctive piña colada sauce.

What distinguishes this dish from other fried shrimp options on the Red Lobster menu is the unique shredded coconut breading. Unlike denser bread-based coatings, the coconut gives the shrimp a light and airy texture, something that helps keep any hint of sogginess at bay. Meanwhile, the piña colada sauce, with its harmonious blend of tanginess, sweetness, and creaminess, serves as the perfect companion. If shrimp isn't your thing, then other popular Red Lobster dishes worth ordering include the Fish and Chips and the Two Maine Tails.

It's possible to eat healthy there

With offerings like Crabby Cheese Fries and Admiral's Feast, Red Lobster's menu might give you the impression that it consists entirely of fried, buttery dishes. However, there are plenty of healthier alternatives amid these rich choices for those willing to explore the menu a bit. The Atlantic Salmon, with a modest 630 calories, stands out as one of the healthiest options. Accompanied by a choice of two sides, it ensures a balanced plate that easily fulfills your daily nutritional needs. Coming in at just 410 calories, The Simply Grilled Sea Scallops are another light option.

Besides these two selections, you can request that your fish be cooked in olive oil instead of butter. This isn't possible for every dish, but it's worth asking your server if you're looking for a healthier option. Additionally, you can request that your lobster be served with a side of olive oil instead of the customary butter. Finally, Red Lobster also offers gluten-free menu items like boiled shrimp and steamed lobster tail.

The lobster bisque doesn't contain much lobster

Even if you stan Red Lobster, you probably know that it's not exactly the definition of haute cuisine. Still, you probably have some expectations about the ingredients used to make your favorite dishes. At the very least, it's reasonable to expect that your order will contain the ingredients listed on the menu. Unfortunately, that's not always the case when it comes to Red Lobster's signature items. In particular, the seafood chain has been accused of using langostino, a small crustacean that's closer to prawns or crabs than lobster, in its signature lobster bisque.

A 2016 investigation by Inside Edition found that two Red Lobster locations were using a lobster-langostino mixture, while one was using 100% langostino in the soup. The whole thing smells fishy and begs the question — just how did Red Lobster get away with such misleading labeling? Well, it turns out that the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) rules stipulate that as long as the ingredients list contains the term "lobster," Red Lobster is within its rights to call the item lobster bisque. In cases where the soup contains no lobster at all, it should be labeled as "langostino lobster bisque."

Employees aren't treated very well

It's no exaggeration to say that restaurant employees receive poor treatment in the course of their daily work. They're on their feet all day, stay cheery even when dealing with demanding customers, and receive little to no thanks for all of their hard work. Unfortunately, such mistreatment is baked into restaurant industry jobs. But sometimes, the challenges faced by restaurant employees go beyond the norm.

Red Lobster's scandals serve as strong evidence of this. To begin with, the company doesn't offer employees paid sick leave. A report from 2022 by Popular Information and More Perfect Union revealed that a staggering 63% of Red Lobster employees had worked while unwell in the previous month alone. Beyond this, the company has faced legal action for violating labor laws. These include forcing employees to work after clocking out, neglecting to provide time and a half pay for overtime work, and requiring tipped employees to perform non-tipped duties for more than 20% of their shifts.

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