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Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp

How Much Do You Have to Eat to Put Red Lobster in the Hole


Update September 2013

Update September 2014

Update September 2017



Red Lobster, a mid-priced, seafood restaurant chain headquartered in the United States, has over 700 outlets worldwide and probably uses more farmed shrimp than any other restaurant in the world.


In October 2011, Red Lobster advertised:


All the Shrimp You Can Eat for $15.99


In mid-October 2011, the “Eater” website asked: “How much shrimp would I have to eat at Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp promotion to make it a net financial loss for the restaurant?”


The website got almost 3,000 responses.  Here are some of them:


• America: Where we have so much food that we’ll eat as much as possible just to give a restaurant a net loss.


• My friend who works there says the record he witnessed was 782 shrimp.  The guys were there for 5.5 hours.


• In 2009 the shrimp price was about $3.20 per pound, so based on that number you’d have to eat 5 pounds of shrimp to make it a net loss.  But due to the oil spill the price has risen to about $4.10 per pound, so that’s only 3.9 pounds of shrimp, but that’s still a lot of shrimp.  I left out transportation, fixed costs, overhead and many other variables because I have no idea what they are, and instead of making an huge miscalculation, I omitted them.


• I’m a chef.  Currently I pay just shy of $6.00 a pound for 26/30 peeled and deveined shrimp.  A shell-on shrimp is about $5.40 a pound.  I’m not sure what size shrimp Red Lobster uses, or how it is prepared, but I’m guessing it has a pretty big discount from what I pay.  My guess is they use 31/35 shrimp and probably pay in the low $4.00 a pound range.  I think that would put its breakeven point near 132 shrimp, but that’s not including any of the other ingredients that go into it, or side orders.


• I work at Red Lobster.  I don’t know the specifics anymore, but our discount is huge.  A big savings comes from the fact that all the shrimp is farmed, peeled and processed in Asia.  It comes to the stores already breaded, or with the sauce frozen to the shrimp.


• If there is breading, it might boot the mass one has to eat.  Also, food costs are only part of the expense of operating a restaurant.  If they broke-even on the shrimp, the meal was a loss on labor.  If he buys a $1.50 soda or a three-dollar beer, they profited.


• I work at Red Lobster, and I’m pretty sure our shrimp are pretty cheap.  They all come frozen and pre-made, so I assume they are pumped out at a factory somewhere.  Scampi meals are frozen in butter, the skewers are already on sticks and the fried, coconut and popcorn shrimp are pre-breaded and frozen.  They probably get prepackaged at farm facilities in Thailand (or a third world country of the like).  Disclosure: I used to work for a shrimp import business.  The shrimp arrived in shipping containers pre-packed.  About 30,000 pounds worth cost $0.50 to $2.00 a pound, depending on the preparation and the size of the shrimp if I remember right.


• I have been kicked out of Red Lobster twice.  The last time I went to endless shrimp, I ate 17 plates of shrimp and the manager came out an politely asked me to leave.  After some gentle resistance, he reminded me that they had the right to refuse service to anyone.  All you can eat is not legally all you can eat; they can and will cut you off.


• I work at a Red Lobster, and for the past six years, four guys have come in for the promotion and together they eat 2,500 shrimp.  A refill of scampi, fried, or grilled shrimp contain ten shrimp each.  Popcorn and coconut shrimp refills are pretty much just a hand full.  We don’t really flinch when this happens, aside from the fact that four people actually ate that many shrimp.  We make so much money from the other products on the menu, it doesn’t really matter how many shrimp people eat.  However, many years ago we promoted “Endless Snow Crab”, and that almost destroyed the company.


• I work at a Red Lobster in southeast Missouri and two weeks ago a man ate roughly 43 refills.  That’s more than 430 shrimp, and my manager said that the company still came out on top.  I won’t pretend to know how much we pay for shrimp, but I do know the markup is quite high.


• I’m a Red Lobster waiter.  I have no idea how much we pay for shrimp.  I don’t think they want us to know.  I do know that most people who order endless shrimp don’t order more than one refill, so that wouldn’t be costing the company very much money, if any at all.  Most people order endless shrimp and then don’t order any refills.  Most of the time they could have ordered it another way, and it would have cost them $8 less.


• I’ve had people bring in their own to-go containers and stash shrimp.  Another server had a woman go into labor while her husband was ordering refills.  I had a boy order 17 refills.  He only stopped because his parents made him.  I guess 170 shrimp was their cutoff.  The people who come out for endless shrimp are people that never leave the house.  On Friday and Saturday nights they come down from the hills and come out in large crowds.  They’ll tip you 5% because they just don’t know better.  They will make you never want to eat again.


• A coworker of mine had a woman at her table who kept ordering refills.  The woman had a large shopping bag and her purse on the table.  My coworker just assumed that another server was picking up her dirty plates because there were never any dirty plates left on the table.  After three rounds, the coworker saw this woman move her bag to reveal nine plates full of shrimp stacked on top of each other.  She then started boxing them up while we all watched.


• My buddy got this deal once and ate so much shrimp that they cut him off.  By that time, he had eaten enough shrimp that he had to go to the hospital and have his stomach pumped.  Despite this, he actually had his father call and complain about not receiving unlimited shrimp.  Red Lobster decided to comp him a free meal so he did the exact same thing. He got the unlimited shrimp again and had to go to the hospital afterwards again.


• Just keep eating till the waiter says, “Sir, the ocean [farm] just called.  They’re running out of shrimp.”



Update September 2013

(Top of Page)


In September 2013, The Huffington Post carried a long article with 15 pictures and a very gross video on how to take advantage of Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp promotion.  Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of that article:


“You must remember when you enter the Seafood Chain Empire [Red Lobster] that you’re at war.  You’re at war with yourself, and most of all, you’re at war with Red Lobster.  The moment you walk in, you’ll face a deadly uphill battle as you try to have a truly endless shrimp experience—while Red Lobster methodically works to end your hunger early.  ....If you really want Endless Shrimp, you’re going to need this list of DOs and DON’Ts.”


Dos and Don’ts

• Do Get Excited

• Do Bring Friends

• Do Drink

• Do Bring a Counter

• Do Understand What This Is Doing to Your Body

• Do Know the Items That Aren’t on the Menu

• Do Order the Scampi


• Don’t Eat Cheddar Bay Biscuits

• Don’t Eat Sides

• Don’t Get the Soy-Wasabi Shrimp

• Don’t Listen to Anything We’ve Just Said


Each of the DOs and DON’Ts is followed by a picture and some humorous comments.





               Update September 2014

             (Top of Page)


On May 16, 2014, Darden Restaurants announced the sale of its Red Lobster chain to Golden Gate Capital, a private equity firm based in San Francisco that also owns California Pizza Kitchen, Payless, and Zale Corporation.


On September 22, 2014, an article appeared on The Daily Meal website that provided advise on how to get the most out of Red Lobster’s “Endless Shrimp” promotions.  Dan Myers, the article’s author begins by saying, “It’s not as easy as it looks to get your fill.”  Here are some of his comments:


About a month or so ago, I started noticing the commercials for Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp promotion, which had returned as it always does this time of year.  I usually don’t pay much attention to it, but this year something occurred to me: I wanted to check it out.  And I wanted to check it out because I, like all people with good taste, like shrimp.  So I paid a visit to the Red Lobster in Times Square (as I’d not-so-secretly always wanted to do), ordered the Endless Shrimp, and strapped in.  Here’s what to know beforehand.


1. You Start with Three

Even though there are six options, your first order comes with only three of those, plus your choice of side.  It’s one at a time after that.


2. It Doesn’t Look Like it Does on Television

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good.  But the shrimp are quite small, and they most likely don’t bounce quite as majestically as they do on TV.


3. Your Server Won’t Be Happy

Think about it: Every time you request a new portion (about 15 fried shrimp, or about 8 skewered ones), your server has to enter in the new order, grab the order from the kitchen, and trek it across the dining room to you.  But at most restaurants, a return trip to the kitchen is usually the result of multiple courses being ordered, meaning a higher bill, meaning a higher tip.  With the promotion’s set price, more service doesn’t necessarily mean a higher tip.  You’re eating a multi-course-meal; tip accordingly.


4. The Sriracha Shrimp is Spicy

If you’re not a fan of spicy food, ask for the sauce on the side.  It’s surprisingly spicy.


5. It’s Tasty, But You’ll Get Full Fast

The Sriracha Shrimp is skewered and grilled, and is the only option that’s not deep-fried or served with plenty of butter (or pasta).  It all tastes great, but it’s a lot more filling than you’d expect, especially if you fill up on Cheddar Bay Biscuits (you will) and sides.  If you’re looking to go the distance, stick with the Sriracha Shrimp.  But definitely make sure you try all of the options.


6. You’ll Feel Guilty

Not just for sending your server back to the kitchen a whole bunch of times, but for the amount of shrimp that you’ve just eaten.  The solution?  Tip 30 percent, and eat a salad tomorrow.



                                   Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp in 2017

                                                    (Top of Page)




Shrimp News: Hollis Johnson, a photographer for Business Insider, and Kate Taylor, a reporter at Business Insider, ate a total of 305 shrimp at Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp promotion last year (2016).  This year, 2017, they planned to top that total.   Their report contains 24 pictures along with lots of chatter about every stage of their quest.  Here I’ve used four of Johnson’s photographs, along with excerpts from throughout their long report.  They got philosophical here and there about their challenge, so I skipped that stuff and stuck to the passages that described the shrimp and their counting tallies.


Their Story


Last year, we left an innocent world thinking we would happily munch on crustaceans for a couple of hours; instead, we entered a murky, briny alternate existence where the shrimp never stops.  Three hundred and five shrimp later, we wearily emerged from Red Lobster on that fated September night in 2016 into the blinking lights of Times Square.




When we returned this year, our goals were set.  Last year, Hollis ate 162 shrimp, and I downed 143.  This year Hollis hoped to reach 175, and I was determined to reach 150—or die trying—for a total of 320, 15 more shrimp than 2016.


Our waiter—the same waiter as a year before—was there with menus in hand and the familiar shrimp spiel on his tongue.  He told us that the Endless Shrimp deal includes five types of shrimp on the menu: linguine, hand-breaded, scampi—the classics—and two newcomers, Nashville Hot shrimp and Mediterranean grilled shrimp.


Those in the know can also order Cape Cod Kettle Chip-Crusted Shrimp, Panko-Crusted Red Shrimp, Coconut Shrimp, Popcorn Shrimp and Garlic-Grilled Shrimp from a secret menu.


Shrimp count (0): We started with a new shrimp on the menu: the Mediterranean Grilled Shrimp.  Sweet, buttery, briny and bountiful, it’s a welcome addition to the menu, a simple grilled variation with a buttery garlic butter dressing, accompanied with grilled tomatoes and chives.  It’s light, with a slight hint of lemon to the white wine sauce, and for those aiming for a high shrimp count, it’s a nice alternative to the heavier fried options.


Another newcomer: Cape Cod Kettle Chip-Crusted Shrimp.  This tongue twister of a secret menu item is good, but with a caveat.  The crunch of the chip breading shines through—each bite tastes like Cape Cod chips.  These golden morsels will wipe you out if you have more than a dozen, and we’re aiming for much more than that.


With the first round under our belts, we were off to a solid start.  Despite our apprehensions, we had somewhat regained our footing mentally.  The taste of shrimp was as alive as it ever was in our minds and hearts.


Shrimp Count (34): Our strategy had never been clearer: avoid breading when possible.  Despite how delicious the Cape Cod Kettle Chip shrimp is, we had to lay off those briny beauties after our first dish.  Instead, we feasted upon many plates of scampi, Mediterranean Grilled Shrimp and the classically grilled shrimp from the secret menu.


Other dishes we avoided: the equally dangerous Panko-Crusted Shrimp, the classic fried shrimp and of course the infamous Shrimp Linguine—a sauce-laden belly stuffer.


Shrimp Count (100): We found ourselves leaning heavily on the Mediterranean Grilled Shrimp.  This new menu addition seems perfectly calibrated for the needs of Endless Shrimpers.  It’s light and fresh, but stands strong in the battle against flavor fatigue—one of the greatest foes of any dedicated shrimp marathoner.


Nashville Hot shrimp, the other new shrimp item, however, was less suited for the occasion.  It attempts to tap into the hip factor of a trendy regional dish: Nashville Hot, a beloved and storied chicken style in Nashville, Tennessee.  Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) fast-food restaurants recently added their take on this flavor to their menu with much success, which might explain Red Lobster’s incongruous embrace of the flavor.  While Nashville Hot—a cayenne pepper infused mix of spicy and sweet seasonings—works beautifully with chicken, it’s not a natural pairing for shrimp.  It overwhelms the delicate shrimp with overt spice and thick breading.  The flavor is fine, but it’s meant for chicken—and during an Endless Shrimpscapade, it just weighs you down.


As we neared 100 shrimp individually, our stomachs began to recognize what we were doing to them.  “I’ve [Kate] feel like I’ve eaten...some shrimp,” I  said.  But on we go.


If we were paying by the shrimp, we’d probably be full at around 100 shrimp between us.  Were we casually in this for the fun of it, perhaps we’d top out at 200.  But we were here to win, and that meant 325 shrimp needed to be eaten.  The very aspect of the challenge forced us onward—we had our dignities to protect.


Shrimp Count (172): We had decided early on to hold back on ordering perhaps the best shrimp dish in Red Lobster’s arsenal until we hit 100 shrimp each.  And at last, the time for Coconut Shrimp had come.  We needed a distinct flavor and a tiny shrimp, and Coconut Shrimp delivers on both fronts.  The little coconut-breaded gems are sweet without being cloying and come with a piña colada sauce that brings one instantly to the sandy shores of Puerto Rico.


Around this time, we started ordering Popcorn Shrimp—the flavor isn’t as distinct, but these small and mighty shrimp morsels are easy to eat and helped our numbers.


Shrimp count (209): Endless Shrimp is an incredibly popular promotion, but it’s undeniable that casually eating a normal shrimp dinner is much more comfortable than gulping down over 300 shrimp at a sitting.


Shrimp Count (297): Under the salty fog of Shrimp Madness, we crossed the threshold of 300 shrimp and marched on towards our ultimate goal.  We passed last year’s heights with little fanfare; we had only the magic number of 325 shrimp in our sights.


Shrimp count (319): Finally, we reached the promised shrimp.  Hollis flipped his scoreboard with pride and solemnity to his personal goal: 175 shrimp.  And with that, he could not eat anymore.


At the end, it seemed a mental game more than anything—had the goal been higher, perhaps more shrimp could’ve been eaten.  But once the threshold was crossed, the satisfaction alone curbed both appetite and ambition.  The boulder had been pushed to the top, and now it must be pushed back up again next year.  And we’ll be back next year to do it all over again.


Video: For a one-minute, time-lapse video of the 7.5-hour, shrimp-eating marathon, Click Here.


Sources: 1. Eater.com.  The Math of Endless Shrimp.  October 13, 2011.  2. The Huffington Post/Huffpost Taste.  Endless Shrimp: What Red Lobster Doesn’t Want You to Know.  Andy Campbell (Andy.campbell@huffingtonpost.com).  September 20, 2013. 3. TheDailyMeal6 Tips to Conquering Red Lobster’s Endless Shrimp.  Dan Myers.  September 22, 2014.   4. Business Insider.  We Went to Red Lobster’s $21.99 Endless Shrimp to See if It’s Really Unlimited.  Hollis Johnson (hjohnson@businessinsider.com) and Kate Taylor (ktaylor@businessinsider.com).  September 20, 2017.  5. Business Insider.  Watch This Time-Lapse of Two People Eating Red Lobster's 'Endless Shrimp' for 8 Hours. September 19, 2017.  6. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, September 22, 2017.


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