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Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp

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


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


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


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.



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. Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International, October 3, 2014.


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