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Red Lobster tries acting like a fancier restaurant

By CANDICE CHOI

NEW YORK (AP) - Red Lobster wants to be seen as a purveyor of quality seafood, so it's getting rid of some of its promotional discounts and plating dishes higher as is the style at fancy restaurants.

The changes mark the latest attempt by the struggling seafood to stop a years-long sales decline as it embarks on a new era. On Monday, Darden Restaurants Inc. said it finalized its sale of the chain to investment firm Golden Gate Capital, despite contentious protests from activist investors. In his first interview as Red Lobster's new CEO, Kim Lopdrup outlined the missteps he thought his predecessors made and why he thinks Red Lobster can win back customers.

"At the end of the day, people are not going to go a Chipotle for their anniversary or their birthday," he said.

Sit-down chains like Red Lobster have been struggling since the economic downturn as people cut back on spending. Such chains are also losing business to places like Chipotle and Panera, where people feel they can get restaurant quality food without paying as much. And Darden's recent attempts to spark turnarounds at Red Lobster and Olive Garden haven't worked.

Darden Profit Sinks As Red Lobster And Olive Garden Continue To Struggle

Amid intensifying pressure from investors, the company announced late last year it would hold onto Olive Garden but get rid of Red Lobster. The company, based in Orlando, Florida, noted Red Lobster's customers were increasingly from lower-income groups, compared with Olive Garden and its specialty chains such as Capital Grille. Investors Barington Capital and Starboard Value wanted the breakup structured differently, with the latter filing a lawsuit last week for records related to the sale.

In the meantime, Lopdrup said, many people still view Red Lobster as "fine-dining for the middle class." But the push to change perceptions about the quality of Red Lobster's food could be a challenge, given recent promotions like "30 shrimp for $11.99," or a lobster pot pie that had just a half-ounce of lobster meat.

Lopdrup, who served as president of Red Lobster from 2004 to 2011 before moving on to head other aspects of Darden's business, said he planned to end such steep discounting.

"You're not going to see any of these low-priced specials that we're not proud of," he said. Popular promotions like "Endless Shrimp" and "Crabfest" will stay, however.

About two weeks ago, Red Lobster also starting rolling out a new plating style for its fish dishes that will expand to other parts of the menu.

Previously, fish dishes were served on rectangular plates, with the fish, rice and vegetables spread out in separate corners. Now when customers order off the "Fresh Fish" menu, they get a round plate on which slabs of fish are piled over the rice, a vertical presentation commonly found at higher-end establishments.

"The food arranged in a way that's more like you'd see at a fine-dining restaurant," Lopdrup said. "The seafood is the star."

As for the food itself, that hasn't changed.

Lopdrup also said he planned to reverse the decision in late 2012 to expand non-seafood options to up to a quarter of the menu and bring the figure back down to around 10 to 15 percent by November.

He declined to provide details on other menu changes planned for coming months. But he said the chain will take a "barbell strategy," meaning it will continue to offer pricier items, including dishes that are more than $30, as well as affordable options more akin to the recently introduced lobster tacos.


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ExAZtential July 29 2014 at 10:11 AM

Does Red Lobster have Crabs?

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tdiplaci July 28 2014 at 5:49 PM

Our Red Lobster and Olive Garden here in Erie, Pa. are fulled to the gills most of the time. I don't see declining sales in our area.

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Tessa tdiplaci July 28 2014 at 5:58 PM

Same here with our Olive Garden in Orange, CA. Its always busy with a wait to sit!

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tcoletto July 28 2014 at 10:14 PM

they don't want the company to become a shell of its former self. couldn't resist.

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100 DOLLAR BILLS July 28 2014 at 5:39 PM

HMMM WONDER WHY ?? food is so tasty !

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keithdelliott July 28 2014 at 10:10 PM

CEO Lopdrup needs to stop using tired cliches like "At the end of the day...". No wonder Red Lobster can't seem to find a niche.

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KiliSurferGirl July 29 2014 at 4:07 AM

Don't like Olive Garden, go to better for Italian, too so-so. Think they are busy because of the soup and salad deal.

And Red Lobster, will never go back as our party of 6 people all had the worst meal ever. Soooooo salty, everything we ordered. Tasted like a whole shaker was put in. Manager said that is the way products come and are made. No one ate a thing after the first bite. Wrote home office and was sent a gift card, why would we go back until recipes were changed. Is that going on in all the Red Lobsters??

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1 reply
PHILL AND TRISHA KiliSurferGirl July 29 2014 at 6:40 AM

salt and grease...red lobsters 2 favorite "seasonings"..

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PHILL AND TRISHA July 29 2014 at 6:39 AM

they couldn't handle acting like a fast food joint with high priced,greasy "food"...so..now they will cut portion size..making it even more expensive...and still giving you the same old greasy "food"...wonder what they will do about their poor service...maybe you wait on yourself??..

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PHILL AND TRISHA July 29 2014 at 6:42 AM

now I understand..the tiny lump of greasy lobster will be on the right side of the plate ..not the left side...well...that makes sense!

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Jane Long July 29 2014 at 8:55 AM

The Red Lobster in our city does not have good food. Their idea of seafood is a joke, their "chefs" never went to school & probably cooked at the golden arches before working at red Lobster we don't go their. For real fish dishes we go to Captain D's..

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