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  5. I tried Red Lobster's $30 endless shrimp for the first time. I see why the deal might have led to the chain's bankruptcy.

I tried Red Lobster's $30 endless shrimp for the first time. I see why the deal might have led to the chain's bankruptcy.

Erin McDowell   

I tried Red Lobster's $30 endless shrimp for the first time. I see why the deal might have led to the chain's bankruptcy.
I tried Red Lobster's endless shrimp promotion and thought it was an excellent deal — but could see why it proved disastrous for the chain.Erin McDowell/Business Insider
  • I tried Red Lobster's infamous endless shrimp promotion and thought it was a good value for $30.
  • I could also see why it proved disastrous for the chain when offered every day.

A few weeks after Red Lobster filed for bankruptcy, I visited the chain's Times Square location to try its now-infamous Endless Shrimp promotion for the first time.

This wasn't my first time eating at a Red Lobster. When I've gone in the past, it's been on the weekend. Now, here I was — on an otherwise dull Monday night — prepared to eat my weight in bottomless shrimp at a Times Square chain restaurant.

Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp has quite the reputation.

The promotion was originally launched as a $20 once-a-week deal. Customers were pleased with the deal, so in the summer of 2023, Endless Shrimp became available every day of the week.

However, inflation and the rising cost of seafood meant Red Lobster would raise the price of Endless Shrimp twice, eventually landing at a base price of $25 to cope with demand and improve profits. At the location I visited in New York City, it was priced at $30.

Despite the increased price to offset expenses, the all-you-can-eat strategy backfired. In the two quarters following the initial launch of the daily endless shrimp promotion, Red Lobster reported operating losses of $11 million and $12.5 million.

Discussing the company's low profits in an earnings call in November, Ludovic Garnier, the global chief financial officer of the chain's owner, Thai Union Group, told investors the overwhelming response to endless shrimp had led to the losses.

"For those who have been in the US recently, $20 was very cheap," Garnier said. "We don't earn a lot of money at $20."

Garnier added the deal "did not deliver what we were expecting" and was "one of the key reasons for the losses we generated in Q3 2023."

Once a daily promotion, Endless Shrimp is now only available on Mondays, which is when I found myself at the revolving doors of Red Lobster's Times Square location on a hot summer night.

I arrived at Red Lobster's Times Square location fully prepared to order as much endless shrimp as possible.

I arrived at Red Lobster
The exterior of Red Lobster in Times Square.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

However, I wasn't only there for the shrimp. I was also curious to see how the chain's flagship New York City location was faring amid the recent news that Red Lobster has filed for bankruptcy.

Nearly a month after reports first emerged that the chain would file for bankruptcy, the chain released a statement announcing it had voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 19.

The statement said Red Lobster's 550 remaining restaurants, including the Times Square restaurant I visited, would "remain open and operating as usual during the Chapter 11 process" after dozens of restaurants closed their doors a week prior.

When I arrived with a friend at prime dinnertime, the dining room was heaving. We were able to snag a booth for two.

When I arrived with a friend at prime dinnertime, the dining room was heaving. We were able to snag a booth for two.
Inside the dining room at Red Lobster.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

We were both surprised by how busy the restaurant was on a Monday night, especially given the recent news. However, people appeared to be taking advantage of the chain's feasts and deals all around us.

I spied at least two patrons eating what appeared to be platters of shrimp, and another family was splitting a large platter of lobster tails and other seafood dishes. Based on what I saw, the chain didn't appear to be having any trouble bringing Times Square tourists through its doors.

In addition to the chain's daily deals, it was also the first day of Crabfest.

In addition to the chain
Red Lobster menu.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Given the chain's botched endless snow-crab promotion in 2003 that tanked the company's stocks, I was admittedly a little surprised to see this on the menu. However, it's worth noting that the Crabfest deal isn't endless.

Instead, for $33.99, guests can order a full pound of crab legs prepared in a variety of flavors over crispy potatoes.

Make no mistake, though — I wasn't there for the crab.

The Endless Shrimp deal costs $30 and gives customers the choice of five different shrimp-filled dishes.

The Endless Shrimp deal costs $30 and gives customers the choice of five different shrimp-filled dishes.
Red Lobster's daily deals.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

To start, I was given the choice of three shrimp dishes and a side. I ordered the grilled shrimp, the Parrot Isle jumbo coconut shrimp, Walt's favorite shrimp, and a side of coleslaw.

I skipped the two pasta dishes — the garlic shrimp scampi and the shrimp linguini Alfredo — because I've had the latter pasta before, and found it to be very filling. This was a marathon, not a sprint.

My platter of shrimp arrived promptly, as did the side of coleslaw.

My platter of shrimp arrived promptly, as did the side of coleslaw.
The first platter of endless shrimp at Red Lobster.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

My dinner came out at the same time as my guest's, a Caesar salad topped with shrimp. I was impressed the restaurant was able to serve the three different kinds of shrimp in such a short amount of time.

I was also impressed by the portion size. The shrimp skewer, which came with rice, had six pieces of shrimp on it. Also on the plate were four pieces of coconut shrimp and five pieces of Walt's favorite shrimp.

Right away, I knew it would be a struggle to order even a second helping, let alone a third or a fourth.

I started by trying the coleslaw. I really liked it.

I started by trying the coleslaw. I really liked it.
Red Lobster coleslaw.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

I was immediately glad I picked coleslaw as my side, rather than a heartier option like mashed potatoes or mac and cheese. The coleslaw was fresh and tangy, and its dressing packed a lot of flavor while not overpowering the vegetables.

The coleslaw brought a light, citrus flavor that balanced my meal perfectly.

The shrimp skewer came with wild rice and a lemon wedge.

The shrimp skewer came with wild rice and a lemon wedge.
Red Lobster shrimp skewer.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The shrimp was grilled and had a buttery garlic glaze on it. I thought the shrimp were on the smaller side, but since there were six of them on the skewer I didn't mind.

The skewer felt like a somewhat healthier option compared to the decadent, intensely rich dishes I've had at Red Lobster before, like the shrimp linguini or the lobster dip.

The rice was also flavorful and well-seasoned — it was a nice addition to my plate.

The classic fried shrimp had a perfectly crispy outer shell.

The classic fried shrimp had a perfectly crispy outer shell.
Walt's favorite shrimp from Red Lobster.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

According to the chain's menu, Walt's favorite shrimp — named after an early employee, Walt King, according to the chain — are hand-breaded, butterflied, and lightly fried shrimp. They came served with a small tub of cocktail sauce, which I thought had a tart, tomato flavor that complemented the shrimp.

I enjoyed these shrimp and thought the breading was the ideal thickness. However, compared to the grilled shrimp and the coconut shrimp, they could have used a touch more flavor.

They really just tasted like breading and plain shrimp.

My favorite of the three varieties I tried was the Paradise Isle jumbo coconut shrimp.

My favorite of the three varieties I tried was the Paradise Isle jumbo coconut shrimp.
Paradise Isle jumbo coconut shrimp from Red Lobster.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The platter came with four pieces of coconut shrimp and a piña colada-flavored dipping sauce. Normally, an appetizer of this coconut shrimp costs $15.49, excluding tax, for six pieces of shrimp.

I thought that including it as part of the $30 endless shrimp deal was a great value.

The coconut shavings flaked off in my mouth with every bite, adding the perfect level of sweetness to my otherwise savory platter of shrimp. The creamy, pineapple-flavored sauce added tartness to the coconut shrimp, and I found the meat inside to be quite tender.

After finishing the contents of my first platter, it was time to order more.

After finishing the contents of my first platter, it was time to order more.
My finished platter of shrimp.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

I definitely would have been satisfied with just the first platter of shrimp. However, for the sake of journalism and trying to get the biggest bang for my buck, I decided to order more.

When our server came back to check in, I was given the choice of two shrimp dishes. I chose to get the shrimp skewer and the coconut shrimp again.

My second shrimp skewer didn't come with rice, but I didn't mind.

My second shrimp skewer didn
Red Lobster shrimp skewer.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Again, the shrimp was buttery and tender. I didn't struggle too much to finish this second helping.

However, by the time I got to the second plate of coconut shrimp, I was shrimped out.

However, by the time I got to the second plate of coconut shrimp, I was shrimped out.
Paradise Isle jumbo coconut shrimp from Red Lobster.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Despite the aroma of the coconut shrimp calling to me, I couldn't finish more than one of them. Overall, I was feeling full … but not borderline sick, like I was the last time I feasted on cheesy, rich dishes at Red Lobster.

The three plates of shrimp I consumed didn't stop me from ordering one of the chain's desserts.

The three plates of shrimp I consumed didn
Red Lobster Chocolate Wave cake.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The chain's Chocolate Wave cake was a multilayered chocolate explosion paired with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate sauce.

The cake was a perfect palette cleanser for the copious amounts of shrimp I had eaten.

The cake was a perfect palette cleanser for the copious amounts of shrimp I had eaten.
Red Lobster Chocolate Wave cake.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The cake was rich and very moist, and the chocolate frosting had a strong, dark flavor to it. I also liked the crunchy bits of chocolate shavings on the edge of the cake, which added a nice textural balance.

I'll definitely be back for the endless shrimp, as long as it's still available.

I
The author standing outside Red Lobster.      Erin McDowell/Business Insider

After trying Red Lobster's endless shrimp for the first time, I had a few takeaways.

One, it was an incredible deal, even at the higher price of $30.

Two, I understand why it was disastrous for the brand when offered every single day.

I only had three helpings of the bottomless shrimp. However, the bottomless nature of the deal — and the fact that the shrimp I ordered were small, tasty, and very easy to load up on — meant I could completely imagine people getting plate after plate, creating a financial predicament for the chain.

As a customer, I loved the endless shrimp promotion and completely understood why it's been so popular with Red Lobster fans, even as it's been demoted to only one day a week.

However, as a food reporter, I now have a deeper understanding of how the deal could be so disastrous for the company's bottom line, no matter how delicious it was.

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