Recently I was inspired to go to the Red Lobster in Times Square with two friends for dinner. Like millions of Americans before me, I liked it.
Initially I was a bit bummed by how much I enjoyed the place, because I’d like to be the kind of girl who sees an 800-calorie cocktail called “The Lobsterita,” or mass-produced cheddar biscuits, or an elevator with an aquarium, or a dessert binder, and genuinely thinks, this is all too much. Because that girl, like Anna Wintour, would gravitate toward subtlety in every area of her life, and probably spend a lot of time in Sardinia.
Oh, well I am ordinary. The good news here is that, statistically speaking, my universe is filled with potential dining companions.
So Red Lobster was fun, like being at an amusement park with the theme “Bar Harbor, Maine meets Corporate America.” There are lighthouse pictures everywhere and nametags identify servers as “seafood experts.” Also: there is no obvious sadism toward the staff. They don’t have to dress funny, make guacamole at the table, or light rice on fire. Nice.
Most importantly: the food, including the aforementioned cheddar biscuits, and the service, and the aquarium, and the mushrooms stuffed with lobster, and the vegetables, and the warm cookie sundae, were good.
Also, from a business standpoint Red Lobster is amazing. Which is maybe not the first feeling you want after a meal, but a logical follow-up to the reality of dining at a publicly traded company. It’s a
locavore nightmare Harvard Business School case study waiting to happen.(Has it?) The Big Red has become “the world’s largest overnight shipper of seafood, sourcing its fish from 30 countries,” according to an article in The Sacramento Bee this April called “A Whale of a Fish Story.” By the way, making this even more amazing, the restaurant has nothing to do with Maine, it’s headquartered in Lakeland, Florida (near Orlando).
In fact, Red Lobster has such amazing distribution channels that it “invented” popcorn shrimp in the 1970s when Brazilian fisherman had an excess of the catch and Red Lobster figured out how to sell them. (<—- I bolded that because I don’t want you to miss it.) Big ups to llya for pointing out Matt Yglesias’s brilliant idea that we look to the success of chain restaurants for solutions in our health care and education systems.
I don’t why I was such a snob about Red Lobster before. It’s embarrassing, really. I think it was an aversion to: 1) a seafood menu chosen by corporate America instead of chefs; 2) the opportunity cost of missing out on unique New York places, and 3) the fact that my parents owned a café when I was growing up, and even today I feel disloyal not supporting Team Mom and Pop.
Conclusion: Lots to like! Am I still pro-small businesses? Of course! But I feel a little more connected to my country just for liking this place. If someone you know wants to go here, join them!