Understanding Red Lobster’s Popularity Among Black Diners

66 comments
April 5, 2011 ‐ By TheEditor

by Steven Barboza

Why is Red Lobster so popular, particularly among African Americans?

The chain – a key brand of multi-chain operator Darden Restaurants, which serves 400 million meals each year and has $7 billion in annual sales – consistently ranks high in national restaurant surveys. Industry analysts chalk up Red Lobster’s success to good management and fine-tuned marketing campaigns such as the “Lobsterfest” promo. Darden’s spokesman ties company success to a message point on how Darden focuses on the total “guest experience,” adding, “We nurture a relationship with all of our guests,” not just African Americans.

All of the above might be true. But there could well be a simpler reason for the chain’s popularity among black people: eating at Red Lobster may be the next best thing to attending a fish fry.

The chain’s dinner menu alone, filled with reasonably priced items, is a kind of nirvana for diners who simply cannot resist fried food. An informal review turned up some 30 fried or partly fried dishes, from popcorn shrimp to hand-battered fish and chips. And it’s a well-known fact that fried fish is deeply rooted in the African American culinary experience – a tried-and-true staple of “soul food” cookery.

“The reality of it is Red Lobster isn’t the best seafood restaurant to go to, nor is the quality of it the best, but it’s economically correct and it doesn’t taste like dirt,” said Jeffery Lewis, owner of the Houston-based Little Black Box Company, a catering concern specializing in gourmet Southern comfort food. “It’s definitely food for the masses,” he added, saying Red Lobster is one step removed from fast food.

Darden is among the world’s largest casual dining companies, with more than 180,000 employees. “We are one of the largest private buyers of seafood in the world,” said Rich Jeffers, Darden spokesman. “We look at our guests holistically and we’re proud of the fact that we have a diverse guest base, and we have a diverse workforce that reflects that guest base.” He said 42% of Darden employees are minorities, but would not divulge how many were African American.

It’s difficult to gauge just how popular Red Lobster is among African Americans. Jeffers refused to divulge guest demographics and “for competitive reasons” wouldn’t even say which states, let alone which restaurants, rang up the most Red Lobster business.

Still, it is a well-known “open secret” that the casual dining chain ranks high on the dining-out lists of black people across the nation. Crystal Swiggett, who worked as a server in a suburban Cleveland Red Lobster for two and a half years, noted that black guests kept the joint jumping. The restaurant was located in Beachwood, Ohio, where the population is 87% white and 9% black, but the restaurant’s clientele was a complete flip flop of the town’s racial makeup.

“Ninety percent of guests were black,” Swiggett said. “It was the busiest restaurant I ever worked in. It stayed busy.” Though Swiggett no longer works at Red Lobster, she dines there regularly with her family.  She has cut back on fried fish, saying, “Family health issues led me to start thinking more about that.” Her father recently died of congestive heart failure, she said.

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  • John P Sullivan

    This was from 2011? Then it’s funny how quickly things change. Darden is divesting itself of Red Lobster by mid-2014 due to poor & declining sales, and if they can’t find a buyer, the chain will close.

  • Mavis Krill

    Walk into most Red Lobster restaurants and they reek of sweat and piss.

    • Gail Scott

      And how would you know? You’re usually at the Cracker Barrel with your Stormfront buddies.

  • tankrollins65

    just stay home and cook it yourself…no waiting in line…no noisy kids…and if your service to yourself is lousy….DONT TIP!

  • LovLeigh

    Actually, contrary to popular belief, Red Lobster actually tastes great depending on THE PERSON EATING EATING IT, not just the color of their skin. I am black but I am not “ghetto” as people and this piece seem to assume. I’ve been to the fancy Beverly Hills steakhouse and still prefer Outback. I think people try too hard to be better than everyone else and try to show they are better by ridiculing others’ tastes. Also, I’m allergic to fish, fried or otherwise. I go for the chicken and clam, my husband likes the shrimp and steak. We eat there because the food is delicious and plentiful, the customer service is excellent, and the price and promotions are right. You don’t have to like it, but you don’t get to judge us for liking it either. Do something better with your time. Visit a homeless shelter or retirement home. K Thanks.

  • Bloom_s74

    Red Lobster is slop, if I’m going to eat garbage I’ll go to 7-Eleven. Most people I know wouldn’t step foot in Red Lobster, myself included. Only ghetto people think red lobster is good food. They shouldn’t be allowed to call that crap seafood. Yuck!!!

  • David Brisker

    Interesting that so many from the African American community enjoy going to Red Lobster, because their parent company  Darden Restaurants, is guilty of unfair hiring practices against Blacks. 
    http://www.colorofchange.org/campaign/restaurants/

  • Renee

    I've heard the talk about black folks loving Red "Slobster", I've eaten there maybe 10 times in my life(39yrs). I have NEVER ordered fried fish, neither has anyone I've gone with. The food is decent, especially the pasta, but the only thing great in the place are the biscuits! Maybe for some, that's their idea of fine dining, for others its decent food + decent price. The article is implying that it's a fried food thang, that aint it!

  • Vee

    I go there to support a company with a brother as the head man. I bet others do to. It is affordable & I can get food that is not fried.

  • Conservative Behe

    It's amazing to me that every time someone brings up a fact that is backed up by research about blacks (for example 70% of all black babies are born out of wedlock) someone screams RACIST!

  • guest

    The book "Red Lobster, White Trash & the Blue Lagoon – Joe Queenan's America" would belie this article. I definitely associate Red Lobster with overweight white people gobbling up cheese-laden food-like items.

  • thickntasty

    carrabas is my favorite rest….

  • Mr. Riley

    Red Lobster is crap! I stopped eating there years ago. Most of the fish they serve there now is processed bull-ish

  • denise hicks

    I am a black femal personal trainer and i was just discussing this with a client recently. I suggested they give up the food at Red Lobster if they ever wanted to see their abs. As usual anything full of saturated fats is popular in our community and there is basically nothing healthy on Red Lobster's menu. Everything there is fried and/or full of butter/oil and salt. These eating habits are the reason for our high numbers of hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

  • Ptrc

    Red lobster is horrible. Red lobster is for people who can't afford real seafood or don't know any better.

  • Lisa

    I agree with you there`s nothing more better than healthy home cooking,
    it`s cheaper and the food taste better because you cooked it.

  • WEALTHY21

    He Loves REAL SEAfood Says His Lady reared where Mariscos such as KING Crab are Fresh!

  • Controversy

    You guys lighten up…its just a story. Red Lobster does a good job marketing their special stuff especially all you can eat shrimp, and many blacks like skrimps (had to throw that in). Wasn't the head of Darden Restaurants a black guy?

  • babydeejordan

    Why does everybody wants to associate african americans with fried foods. I never thought about fried food at RL because I go for the seafood and great cheddar biscuits. I never knew it was a hang out for blacks….

  • SayCheese

    Ewwwwwwwww no way. I bet they fishing is so unethical.

  • chaka1

    The article is true where I live. The Red Lobsters are in Jewish neighborhoods, but there are usually as many black patrons as white. That's very ODD! In fact, my parents celebrate their anniversary at Red Lobster every year. I've been to numerous black dinner celebrations at Red Lobster … I think it's funny…

  • guest

    this is what "news" is hittin for nowadays?

  • pretty girl swagg

    ITS THOSE DAMN BISCUITS………………. THEY R CRAZY

  • hint

    Get some bisquick and make the cheddar biscuits yourself. As a matter of FACT, cook the majority if not all of your own food yourself, it is better for you.

  • Funny

    This article is funny. The comments are even more funny. Keep it coming.

  • tg1

    I can't believe you guys just used a stereotype – that all black people do fish frys. Don't get me wrong – There is nothing wrong a fish fry, but for you to associate THAT with Black people going to Red Lobster is worst than all the stereotypes we have to endure from white publications. I thought you guys were going to mention the low prices. That was my first thought – they have reasonable prices and GOOD food – that's why, me as a black woman, likes Red Lobster. I've never thought of FISH FRY and Red Lobster in the same sentence. But oh well, this is the type of BS all black people have to live with – EVERYTHING and EVERYONE forever being stereotyped.

    • Chaka1

      I know people hate stereotypes, but black people DO like fish fries, and they DO like Red Lobster. Fish fries are part of my church's culture. We have one once a month for the past 25 years, and at least 300 people show up and stay till we run out of fish. I don't have a problem with Red Lobster. It's nice to see people out having a nice time with their families, girlfriends, etc…

  • Lush n' Roulette

    This article IS kind of racist. Whenever I've been to RL, I've seen every kind of person there of not even various races but various income levels judging by the cars in the parking lots. And I've never been in one that had a largely black clientele. For that matter, I've seen lots of black folks at Boulder Creek, Golden Corrall, Lone Star, IHOP, Denny's (were'nt we supposed to be boycotting them?) not to mention plenty of black folks at Irish Pubs, whatever. All this says is that we're no different than anyone who likes seafood. Very poor article. I think you're trying to scare white people away from RL.

  • Mutual of Omaha

    They have a poor menu. The selection is very limited and only for seafood lovers and there''s not enough variety for non-seafood diners who for instance come as part of a group of people. My job gives us $25 Red Lobster gift cards every Christmas but I usually just re-gift them to a friend. Those biscuits are the bomb though but Im on a diet. We can use the cards at other restaurants owned by the same people like Olive Garden (another restaurant I hate even more than RL) or Bahama Breeze (there isn't one near me).

  • sha

    What are you gonna post tomorrow; how we think the er-live gar-ten *in madea’s voice* is considered fancy to black folks as well?

  • WithAllHonesty

    It was sarcasm, Anon.

  • WithAllHonesty

    @Anon

    The last part was pure sarcarsm.

  • Joe

    “We nurture a relationship with all of our guests,” not just African Americans."

    There really isn't much reason to read beyond that sentence.

  • Snowmonkeybungiemasher

    My race trader wife hates red lobsater

  • Moanmyname

    Its funny. I’ve never eaten at red lobster before…hmmm

  • Maritza

    That’s a bunch of deep fried $H!t

  • anon

    @Withallhonesty I was with you until your last comment which was ignorant, racist and stereotypical which makes your comment a fail

    • WithAllHonesty

      Sarcasm fail, I wasn't being serious.

  • Juliemango

    I ate at red lobsters once with my ex-husband – too fattening for frequent visits. I prefer japanese food. Im surprised at thr high revenues n standards for training, etc tho.!!!i

  • MOmo

    I haven’t been to a red lobster since I was 16. The only good thing there are the cheddar bisquits! Otherwise that seafood is crap

  • prissa

    I recently ate @ red lobster and I must admit the quality WAS NOT on par w/a restaurant such asn Olive Garden (which is where I usually

    go). BUT the price was on point!! I got appetizer, salad soup main entree (and added xtra meat) a drink and dessert – all for a lil over $50.00. I wouldve easily spent close to $100 elsewhere.

    Oh an where I was there were nothin but black folk

  • Seriously?

    Interesting…..I work for Olive Garden and it does seem as though the majority of the guests at the Red Lobster up th street are black. While I do think some of the statements made in this article should have been rethought, because they are seriously perpetuating stereotypes, go to any highschool graduation and find out how many of them are going to RL for dinner!

    On another note: you mean to tell me Olive Garden brings in 907 million a year and yall are paying me 9.80 an hour? Further confirmation that it’s time to quit

  • Maritza

    I don’t even like that place; except the cheddar biscuits.

  • maru-chan

    Them damn biscuits!! EVERYONE loves those biscuits!!!!

  • JustSaying

    Never been to a Red Lobster. Nothing against it nor would I avoid it. Just never been to one and not going out of my way to get to one.

  • WithAllHonesty

    Red Lobster isn’t high end at all. It’s pretty basic to me, maybe because I live in a large city on the coast and we take sea food seriously. But Red Lobster’s quality is decent-good depending on what you’re having.

    To say this is “Black peoples restuarant” is ignorant. Maybe because I live in a diverse city I’ve seen so many different people there, not just Blacks. And how could this be a Black person’s hangout if large African American cities can’t afford it because of unemployment rates and welfare?

    Article fail.

    • Conservative Behe

      It's not ignorant if it's backed up by facts. Why do so many people scream RACIST! when a derogatory fact about blacks comes out? Guess what? They're less educated, more likely to be incarcerated, more likely to be fatherless, more likely to use drugs. A simple Google search will show you facts that you may not like, but that doesn't mean they're racist.

  • ll

    The place sucks. I know people who have tried it but I don’t know who have gone back. Who are are these black people?

  • Lisa

    What a stupid article. This site post any article that puts blacks against other races, especially whites. This is such a awful, racist gossip site. Who cares what the demographics of the diners are? Darden doesn’t; they’re making money and that’s the bottom-line.

  • drizzy

    To be fair black ppl are the most popular at every fast food rest. The sad truth is american blacks have no culture and not a very wide variety of foods they can cook, if they even cook. Seems like they’re always ordering out.

    • Tiff

      oh, you need a big old slap in the mouth! Where do you live anyway? and where are you from? the west indies? If so, I understand your comment because West-Indian Blacks tend to live near nothing but other West Indians and ghetto Black Americans, so that is your only experience with American Blacks. Therefore, most of you all are on the same level in terms of residence. No culture? American Blacks made this country have culture. Please tell me what you eat and cook. What an ignoramus!

      • SayCheese

        He's eat BBQ for some weird reason they call it jerk chicken lol, with a big bowl of dirty rice and wash it all down with year old coconut milk.

      • Conservative Behe

        How is he an ignoramous? American blacks, judging by their big asses, always eat out at fast food restaurants and they eat the worst things. Check on the stats for diabetes and heart disease and see who's leading the way. Blacks! You guys are killing yourselves.

      • Girl

        You are just as ignorant as the other user, assuming that if you are West Indian, you live with ghetto blacks and other West Indians. You cant make a point by falling into the same level of stupidity.

  • MYL

    @ReddSilk agree 100% with you on this non-researched mess!!!!

  • thesaneone

    I love red lobster…not because I love fried food…but they're food actually tastest good and is affordable. I can get snow crab and grilled shrimp with those amazing biscuits for $20! and to be honest, I've been to MANY sea food restaurants, and Red Lobster (despite the casual experience) is up there in taste and quality.

  • Josh

    So was this article sponsored by Darden Resturants/Red Lobster? I feel like I'm reading a promotion instead of an article. Jesus christ. Pappadeux Seafood (southern thing) > Red lobster everyday, all day

    • http://twitter.com/Bayou619 @Bayou619

      Pappadeauxs not much better. Black folks need to expand their palette's. A whole world of food to be had out there.

      • daliwood

        I must disagree with you Pappadeux is great! Again, maybe it’s a Southern thing, because we love it! And i’d consider myself worldly in this sense. If I’d say so myself.

  • Venger

    Red lobster is for the seafood lover in you. If I take a chick there I’m going to get in her too.

  • Venger

    Red lobster is the bomb not 1st date worthy though but I do take chicks there. If you order that Ultimate Feast you better be ready to drop dem drawers.

    • isis

      lol

  • team nymphis

    red lobster is garbage.the dennys of sea food.you can see all the seasons ghetto couture in one visit.

  • Toy

    This was dumb! I hate seafood but i love their chedder bisquits

  • joey

    lmao….ur right though. Ive seen every race and their momma and daddy eat at red lobster.

  • $k8orDIE

    I go because of the CHEDDER BISCUITS! You can eat those all day yo! If Red Lobster take the biscuits away, I WOULD NEVER EAT THERE AGAIN YO AND THATS WORD TO MY MOTHER!

No thanks