An unlikely chain restaurant is winning over millennials

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Red Lobster Thanks Beyonce For Their Increase In Sales After 'Formation'

Red Lobster has made surprising gains with an unlikely customer demographic: millennials.

The chain was named the top restaurant choice among 18-24-year-olds in a recent survey by Nation's Restaurant News that included 173 other brands.

The rating came as a surprise even to Red Lobster CEO Kim Lopdrup. He says the restaurant hasn't been advertising directly to millennials.

"Red Lobster is not the first place people think of as a favorite restaurant for millennials," Lopdrup said in an interview with Business Insider. "It's particularly interesting because we have not been explicitly targeting millennials, we've just been focusing on making improvements overall."

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Red Lobster was in decline when it was taken private nearly two years ago.

Same-stores sales had dropped 5.6% in the fourth quarter of 2014, the last quarter for which the company reported financial results before it was taken private by Golden Gate Capital.

Check out 15 secret menu items you can find at popular chains:

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Secret fast food menu items
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An unlikely chain restaurant is winning over millennials
"Mc10:35" from McDonald's 
"Apple Pie McFlurry" from McDonald's

“Animal Style” Burger/Fries from In-N-Out

Starbucks' "Butterbeer Frappuccino"

Burger King's "Rodeo Burger"

A triple-layered drink from Starbucks

McDonald's' "McGangBang Sandwich"
Starbucks' "Nutella Frappuccino"
Chipotle's "Quesarito"
"Green Tea and Cotton Candy Frappés" from Starbucks
Dairy Queen's "Arctic Rush Float"
“Grand Slam" from Wendy's
"Neapolitan Milkshake" from McDonald's

"Thin Mint Frappuccino" from Starbucks

Subway's "Pizza Sub"
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In the prior quarter, same-stores sales had dropped by nearly 9%.

Red Lobster is now making a comeback: the company says it has had positive comparable sales for the last six straight quarters.

So what has changed?

Since going private, the company has started catering its menu to new food trends with the additions of wild-caught Alaska Sockeye Salmon, lobster tacos, and new flavors like chimichurri and spicy Tennessee bourbon shrimp.

Red Lobster has also increased the size of its shrimp by at least 47% in most of its dishes and says it changed cooking practices to improve taste. For example, cooks started preparing the shrimp scampi in-house and added more sauce to the dish, after customers said they wanted additional sauce for dipping their cheddar bay biscuits.

And while many casual dining restaurants, such as Olive Garden, are increasingly emphasizing carryout to keep up with growing competition from fast-casual chains (like Chipotle), Red Lobster has been encouraging customers to dine in, in part by offering a new line of alcoholic beverages.

It turns out this resonated with millennials.

"Millennials are very social," Lopdrup said. "They like to share experiences with friends and they like to dine in groups, and Red lobster is well set up to handle large parties."

Beyoncé also gave the chain a boost recently. In February, the company's sales soared 33% on the day after she released a new song that included a reference to the seafood chain.

Red Lobster isn't just winning over millennials, however; it's also gaining ground among all customers, according to the Nation's Restaurant News survey. The chain ranked fourth this year among all casual dining restaurants up 10 places from last year's survey.

Click through for tips to save money at your favorite fast food spots:

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10 money-saving fast-food hacks
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An unlikely chain restaurant is winning over millennials

Restaurant: McDonald’s

Hack: Order two four-piece nuggets instead of one six-piece. It’s cheaper, you get more nuggets and you get more sauces. Score.

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: McDonald’s

Hack: Order a McDouble without the ketchup and mustard but with lettuce and Big Mac sauce. You'll pay for the Big Mac taste for the price of a McDouble.

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Restaurant: Chipotle

Hack: Order half of one protein and half of another kind (like chicken and steak). You’ll almost always get more than half of each and end up with up to 1.5x the protein in your burrito or bowl for the price of a normal portion.

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Krispy Kreme

Hack: Fill out the survey on the bottom of your receipt for a free doughnut with the purchase of one. Hypothetically if you kept doing this, you could win unlimited free doughnuts. Not advised.

Photo credit: AP

Restaurant: Arby’s

Hack: Order two junior roast beef sandwiches instead of one regular classic. You'll end up with more meat for a lower price.

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Restaurant: Jamba Juice

Hack: Substitute any ingredient in any smoothie for the same price. If you’re craving a smoothie with non-fat yogurt instead of mango, or extra strawberries instead of blueberries, customize it to your liking without any extra charge. It will save you more than being charged for creating your own smoothie from scratch.

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Jack in the Box

Hack: Order two Jr. Bacon Cheeseburgers and combine them into one for a much cheaper version of a Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburger. 

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Restaurant: McDonald’s

Hack: Order a sausage McMuffin off of the dollar menu but ask for the sausage to be substituted with egg—an egg McMuffin for a dollar.

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Any pizza place

Hack: When you call to order delivery, ask if there were any orders that weren’t delivered—the pizza place will often give you those orders for a discounted price (perfect if cold pizza is your thing.)

Photo credit: Getty

Restaurant: Subway

Hack: Order a Double Steak and Cheese Sub instead of the Philly Cheese Steak Sub—you’ll get the same sandwich at a normal foot-long price.

Photo credit: Getty

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