Fired Red Lobster Employees Share the Truth About the Endless Shrimp Promotion That Bankrupted the Chain

By: Amanda Kusumowidagdo | Published: Jun 03, 2024

Almost 100 Red Lobster stores have been shut down, and the company has finally filed for bankruptcy. Bad business decisions have done the casual dining chain in. 

Among those bad decisions was the spectacular failure of the Endless Shrimp promotion. Instead of saving the chain, it ended up accumulating an $11 million operating loss in Q4 2023.

Endless Bad Business

To be fair, the bankruptcy was not solely caused by the Endless Shrimp promotion. The chain had also gone through multiple owners that didn’t do much to stabilize it. Rising labor costs and real estate costs also contributed to Red Lobster’s downfall.

A Red Lobster restaurant with a set of staircases in front of it in the evening

Source: Red Lobster Japan/Wikimedia Commons

In the early 2010s, the company was sold to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital; it sold the Red Lobster-owned real estates. The restaurants ended up being beholden to landlords and leases. And this year, minority stakeholder Thai Union Group, decided to cut their investment due to financial losses.


The Promotional Fiasco

However, the promotional fiasco of Endless Shrimp still brought a lot of trouble for the chain. Former Red Lobster employees could testify how hellish the promotion was for them when they worked for the restaurant.

A platter of three shrimp dishes under the Red Lobster Endless Shrimp promotional menu

Source: redlobster/X

Then again, if customers could get an unlimited supply of fried shrimp, shrimp scampi or “street corn shrimp” for just $20, why would they not take full advantage of it, even to the detriment of the restaurant and its staff?

A Fitting End

Former Red Lobster employees interviewed by Slate shared their horror stories about serving the customers the Endless Shrimp promotion. 

The lobby of a Red Lobster restaurant with red walls and red doors

Source: N509FZ/Wikimedia Commons

Servers, cooks and bussers all thought the deal was a “fitting capstone to an iconic if deeply mediocre chain that’s been drifting out to sea for some time.”

16 Rounds of Shrimp Scampi

James Berke, a 23-year-old former employee from New Jersey, told of a story of a family of five who ordered 16 rounds of shrimp scampi.

A plate of seafood with lobsters in it

Source: Fabricio Rivera/Pexels

“He was there for over two hours on a busy Friday night. They had one of my biggest tables. I just had to watch this man eat plates upon plates of the scampi, which isn’t even served over pasta. It’s shrimp in a garlic-wine butter. It was so gross.”

Major Problems With the Promotion

According to Berke, the Endless Shrimp promotion was highly problematic for two major reasons. First, the $20 price for the promotion was lower compared to the rest of the rest of the restaurant’s menu. An average entrée at the restaurant was $35 at the time. 

Several raw lobsters displayed on ice with a sign saying Lobster

Source: Louis Hansel/Unsplash

When the all-you-can-eat format became permanent in the restaurant last summer, Berke made less on tips. Another Red Lobster employee, Steve, who wanted to remain anonymous, confirmed this. “I usually made $200 a night before Endless. Once it became a thing, I was down to $90.”


Customers Wouldn’t Leave

When dinner parties arrived at Red Lobster wanting to pig out on shrimp, they also tended to stay for a long time. Other customers couldn’t get in, so there were fewer people to serve, which meant fewer tippers.

A person wearing a black T-shirt serving a plate of seafood in a crowded restaurant

Source: Louis Hansel/Unsplash

Another problem would be the customers who wouldn’t comply with the restaurant’s rules of the promotion. For this promotion, customers were not allowed to use takeaway for their shrimp. The promotion was also not meant to be shared; meaning, one binge portion was intended for one person only.


Employees Get Disrespected a Lot

Another former employee who wishes to remain anonymous, Josie, said she would get screamed at by customers who contested the promotion’s rules. “You had groups coming in expecting to feed their whole family with one order of endless shrimp.”

A woman wearing red apron and blue T-shirt covering her face with her palm as a sign of frustration

Source: 8photo/Freepik

When they didn’t get what they wanted, they got angry. Josie said, “It tops any customer service experience I’ve had. Some people are just a different type of stupid, and they all wander into Red Lobster.”


Younger, Rowdier Customers

Steve echoed Josie’s story. He said he’s “never been more disrespected in my life” than by the Endless Shrimp customers. He even said his manager got spat in the face.

A group of cheerful people celebrating with food

Source: mellonpost/X

Thanks to this promotion, Steve noticed a subtle shift in the type of diners who came into Red Lobster. Older people who “dressed up and looked nice” were replaced by a younger, rowdier crowd.


Hungry People Gone Wild

Josie noted that Endless Shrimp diners often went to the extremes with excess shrimp. She witnessed a single person chow down 30 orders of fried shrimp in four hours. 

A man in red shirt holding an apple while opening his mouth widely

Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Meanwhile, if you look at the nutritional information of the Endless Shrimp based on Red Lobster’s website, such a portion is worth around 14,000 calories. “He was a skinny guy, too. I was like, where is it all going?” she wondered.


Missed by ‘Broke’ Customers

The news of Red Lobster’s bankruptcy and many of its stores closing is making some customers upset, particularly those who depend on the cheap Endless Shrimp promotion to sustain themselves. 

A person holding an open empty wallet

Source: Towfiqu barbhuiya/Pexels

Michael Durrant, a 23-year-old customer who once ate 83 shrimps and spent between three and four hours in the dining room (and took at least one nap at the table), lamented, “I am bummed that Red Lobster is going away. But I get it. There’s not really anything on the menu worth getting other than the Endless Shrimp.”


Not the Staff’s Problem Anymore

While Durrant might lose his cheap sustenance, employees like Berke, Josie and Steve no longer have to face the sometimes lawless Red Lobster diners anymore. After Berke and Josie worked the Mother’s Day shift, one of the most important days in the sit-down restaurant calendar, they learned their Red Lobsters had been closed permanently.

A man wearing a gray apron holding his hands up in a resigned gesture

Source: stockking/Freepik

“They made us work Mother’s Day to get that quick buck, and then they closed us,” Berke said. There is little chance of them getting transferred to the remaining 500 stores still open. While these stores will still be open during the bankruptcy process, the future doesn’t look bright for the chain.