Everyone thinks they know everything there is to know about Red Lobster. But, if you look at what the employees and court records have to say about the place, you’ll quickly see that it’s not all the yummy-and-buttered up goodness it’s made up to be. In fact, there are some pretty weird and gross secrets.
The reality is that the restaurant has been repeatedly cited for multiple labor violations, and there have also been investigations about imitation lobster offerings (ew!), and they’ve even been caught up in a salmonella outbreak (double ew!). Find out all the dirt on this restaurant. It’s all a juicy, seafood-ridden mess, really.
If you’re paying top-dollar for the “real” lobster, that’s one thing… You’re probably ok with it. You know what you’re getting… And, you expect lobster to be expensive, much like caviar or champagne, right?
What you don’t expect, though, is that you’re being served a “lobster substitute.” That’s right, there is lobster that is not REAL lobster. An investigation of 28 restaurants in the US found that 35% were using “cheap fish substitutes” instead of the real thing. It’s not a good thing, but seafood fraud is apparently “everywhere.” Some restaurants also get around the fake versus real debacle by claiming to serve “langostino,” or “squat lobster,” a prawn-like sea creature.
Racist Comment Controversy
Unfortunately, hateful behavior is something that we as a people still have to deal with. Red Lobster Employee Toni Christina Jenkins discovered that a customer, Devin Barnes, had left behind the bill, with the N-word scrawled across the bottom portion of the slip. Jenkins posted the slip to Facebook and instantly set off a firestorm of comments and even angry attacks against Barnes.
For his part, Barnes apologized to Jenkins, said it wasn’t him, and even had a handwriting expert back up his denials with an analysis. After continued harassment, and when Jenkins received $10k via a “tip fund” on youcaring.org, Barnes took Red Lobster and Jenkins to court, charging, “a willful and malicious act, slander and unlawful release of Barnes’ personal information on the Internet.” He sued for $1 million, but the case was dismissed.
Sued for Automatic Gratuities
It’s a common billing policy. Restaurants, like Red Lobster, reportedly just tack on that extra large-party gratuity when they run the bill. The purpose of the surcharge is to compensate for longer dining time per table, lower tabs, as well as additional server attention that’s required.
It’s a service fee, not a tip, but most of us expect some sort of larger-than-normal bill when we join a large party. Where the problem comes in, though, is when Red Lobster tacks on the extra charge to all bills. Ted Dimond, a tennis pro, brought the $5.5 billion class action lawsuit against Red Lobster to compensate diners for what he terms a “trick” to make diners add a second tip.
Red Lobster settled a lawsuit for $160,000, plus additional training and concessions. The case was brought by Valerie Serman, Racheal Cox, and Jennifer Tolbert who claimed they were subjected to “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment by the culinary manager in Salisbury, Maryland.
According to the lawsuit fillings, the manager not only pressed up against them in suggestive ways but also groped and grabbed them in inappropriate ways. Worse yet, the district manager did not take action when the harassment was reported. Reports suggest that he also made “vulgar” comments. What seems apparent from the court records is that the work environment was hostile and sexually charged in the most offensive ways possible.
In her song, “Formation,” Beyoncé sang, “I take his [butt] to Red Lobster, cause I slay.” She was talking about good bedroom love. The bottom line is… If she didn’t have an endorsement deal with Red Lobster, she should’ve worked one up right away. It could be extremely lucrative.
Why? Because Red Lobster sales immediately went up by an estimated 33%. Not too shabby for such a brief message, but that really just shows how much brand-juice Beyoncé has, really without even working on it. If you’re curious…read on to find out just how Red Lobster responded to Beyoncé’s hot-and-sexy “Formation” mention. I’d be willing to guess it’s not what we’ve come to expect from such a big brand name.
The question of Beyoncé’s affiliation with Red Lobster was quickly made quite clear when they completely flubbed the social-media opportunity. And, that’s putting it mildly…
The response was, “Cheddar Bey Biscuits’ have a nice ring to it don’t you think?” with a hashtag and mention. And, if the response wasn’t lame enough, it took them ten hours to post it. So, it was a fail all the way around. Completely disappointing. Here’s one last note: “Formation” has millions of views on Youtube. Imagine the traction/sales-bump/PR that Red Lobster could have seen if they’d jumped on that opportunity just a little bit better.
Another Star Aligns
And, of course, Beyoncé is not the only star who loves those Cheddar biscuits. In her infamous memoir, Bossypants, Tina Fey famously says, “There is no one of-woman-born who does not like Red Lobster cheddar biscuits. Anyone who claims otherwise is a liar and a Socialist.”
So, she joins the ranks of the other million ultra-fans of Red Lobster cheddar biscuits. There is a pretty avid mass of them (you’ve already seen how they responded to Beyoncé’s mention of cheddar biscuits, right? That quote (and the fact that it was mentioned in Fey’s famous memoir) could have been an awesome opportunity for gaining further social-media buzz for the Red Lobster brand… Maybe the company should be relying more on their young employees. Controversy aside, Toni Christina Jenkins certainly tapped into viral possibilities.
With the size of the drinks and the cost of them too, you’d have thought that they wouldn’t need to water them down as well. Instead, why not try making the glass smaller? But, no, employees mention the watered-down drinks at Red Lobster. Not that they drink at work, but that customers always complain about it.
Since many customers buy the drinks in combo with the fried and overly buttered foods, the drinks appear to take on an even more important role in the dining experience. So, the fact that they are watered down, combined with the fact that the bar at Red Lobster doesn’t even seem to stock basic ingredients, tends to frustrate (and even anger) customers. Of course, that’s also the best way to ensure that customers leave negative reviews and also refuse to leave much of a tip.
A Salmonella Outbreak
And, yes, Red Lobster has also been sued over the multi-state cucumber-related Salmonella outbreak that affected 27 states and reportedly caused 285 people to get sick. A Minnesota child, identified as A.J., experienced “stomach cramps and diarrhea.” A doctor confirmed the diagnosis of salmonella, but the child appears to have made a full recovery, though the family still sued Red Lobster.
Yes, the cases of salmonella appear to be more frequent in recent years. For its part, the company released a statement, “Red Lobster is committed to the safety and well-being of our guests.” They also stated that the contaminated cucumbers were only in their salads and that since the voluntary recall that all cucumbers had been removed.
Again, with the Salmonella?
If there was just an isolated incident, that would be one thing… but the contamination affected several Red Lobster customers. While A.J. appeared to make a full recovery (and did not require hospitalization), the case of Kathleen R. Dvergsten was much more severe.
Dvergsten filed a lawsuit against Red Lobster, claiming that she too ate at Red Lobster and was affected by the “severe cramping, vomiting, and near constant diarrhea,” but her symptoms worsened to the point that hospitalization became necessary. Tested at the hospital, her culture was positive for the cucumber-related outbreak strain of salmonella poona. Dvergsten was hospitalized for a week, transferred to a care center for rehabilitation, and only able to return home (and to work) after a total of 14 days. Dvergsten also sued Red Lobster.
While the concept of “Endless Shrimp” sounds like a great idea, employee and customers alike report that it’s something more of a scam in most cases. With the horrendous wait time for every Shrimp Refresh, it’s impossible for diners to consume that much.
It’s true that part of the reported problem is an understaffed kitchen, but the delay/wait factor is evidenced at multiple locations, which seems to suggest a more pervasive, even deliberate, cost-saving tactic. While it may sound like a really good deal, you know what they say about sounding too good to be true… Of course, if you have nothing better to do than sit around a Red Lobster restaurant, the “Endless Shrimp” deal may be perfect for you.
With the low minimum wage for restaurant workers, labor laws restrict the “side work” that an employee is required to do, as part of the job. That would include tasks like opening up the store, cleaning, and closing. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (or FLSA), side work should not exceed about 20% of their work time.
The lawsuit alleges that employees were required to complete “side work” opening-up duties prior to clocking in (so that was without pay), which represents wage and hours violation, as well as other possible FLSA violations. Red Lobster’s parent company has already been investigated and been forced to pay fines for other labor violations.
Not the First Labor-Violation Settlement
Red Lobster’s original parent company, Darden Restaurants, settled for $9.5 million a few years ago as well. That case involved more than 20,000 current and former servers in California, who claimed that workers were not allowed to take breaks, but also that employees were forced to buy their own uniforms (and replace them as needed).
It’s worth noting that many of these complaints continued (and were even exacerbated) in statements by employees since that million-dollar settlement. But, that’s not all… Yeah, it sounds like a game show. You’ll be intrigued to learn that they paid out $4 million to settle two class-action lawsuits, where employees were forced to make up for cash shortages at the end of their shifts. Then, they paid $700,000 to settle another case, where they’d failed to issue timely wage and itemized wage statements when an employee was fired.
Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Meal
You won’t be surprised to find out that one of the “Create Your Own Combo” received one of the Xtreme Eating Awards for the Unhealthiest Chain Restaurant Meal. It’s Shrimp Linguine Alfredo, Walt’s Favorite Shrimp, and Parrot Isle Jumbo Coconut Shrimp served with Caesar salad, French fries, and a Cheddar-Bay biscuit combined with a a 24-ounce Lobsterita; it tops out at 3,600 calories.
As you’ve no-doubt surmised, that’s more calories than the 2,000 that the FDA recommends that you consume in an entire day. Red Lobster’s Director of Communications, Erica Ettori, defends the “Create Your Own Combo” promo, saying that the award cites “just one atypical combination and as a result inaccurately portrays the nature of this menu item.” You’ve got to admit, though, that 3,600-calorie count is pretty outrageous, excuses and explanations aside.
A Case of the Unclean
Employees repeatedly complain about the lack of cleanliness and organization in the Red Lobster dining and kitchen areas. It’s something that customers comment on as well. Yes, the dark dining room might hide some of the worst of the grime, but you can still feel the greasy menus, dirty floors, and even see overflowing trash cans in the restrooms.
Red Lobster employees also claim that everything is just gross, covered with a greasy-buttery film. It’s an unprofessional environment, according to reports, though if the employee happens to incur the favor of the bosses, favoritism does come with some more-positive perks (for instance, laziness, productivity, and lapsed clean-up are overlooked/ignored).
The biggest problems for the kitchen staff are pretty much what you’d expect. It’s hot and busy. They’re not allowed to take breaks. They can’t call in sick. (Which means they are in the kitchen when they’re sick.) And, the kitchen staff say that they are constantly yelled and ranted at by servers and managers alike.
All the stress and the hectic-manic environment inevitably contribute to the mistakes, errors, and complaints from the Red Lobster diners. But, the lack of training also contributes to frustration for the kitchen staff. When they don’t receive the proper training, it’s not surprising that the signature Red Lobster dishes won’t “look” the way they are supposed to.
Angry Customers Attack
Sooner or later, every waitress and waiter make mistakes, and when he/she does, they can only hope that the customer doesn’t get too upset. In the case of one 25-year-old waitress, she messed up the orders for Sharrell A. Evans, Britley L. Green, and Geneen L. Green, which inspired them to become verbally abusive toward her. While they still ate their meal, the incident then further escalated with one woman throwing Sprite in the employee’s face.
The physical altercation then ensued, as they reportedly pushed the waitress into another table, as well as punched her and pulled her hair. The female employee was extricated from the situation, and the customers apparently paid and were escorted out of the restaurant, but the police were called and the women were subsequently charged with assault.
It’s probably not surprising that many of the employees don’t last long in that environment. It’s already been established that Red Lobster has been under investigation on numerous occasions for labor violations. Add to that their cost-saving measures of keeping employees on that part-time merry-go-round to avoid paying overtime and benefits, and you’ve got the makings of a frustrated even hungry workforce.
Waitresses are paid low wages, and tips just don’t cut it, particularly when Red Lobster customers are shocked and disappointed by the cold and gross food. It’s all a downward spiral. Can we even hope to ever expect better, no matter who the parent company is?
Is That History?
Yep, Red Lobster has been consistent in their violations. The list goes on and on. Perhaps at least in part because of the many violations and controversy, Darden Restaurants divested itself of Red Lobster in 2014 for $2.1 billion. Golden Gate Capital has been the parent company off-and-on since then.
After reports surfaced that Golden Gate Capital seemed unable to turn the business around, they sold the real estate to VEREIT for $1.5 billion, and then (strangely enough) agreed to acquire $204 million of Red Lobster real estate back from the firm in 2015. While Red Lobster appeared to have a great deal of potential from an investment point of view (hey, even hot-and-popular stars like Beyoncé and Tina Fey rave about them), the constant series of controversies, and even the more basis workplace nightmares.