Red Lobster wants to be known for its high-quality, fresh seafood. But that’s not happening, judging from the sound bites in our netnography. Many people do like the food—it’s worth noting that the biscuits got more positive feedback than the seafood—yet many others found the food didn’t taste good, or, in extreme cases, made them sick.

Red Lobster is the world’s largest casual dining seafood restaurant company with nearly 700 restaurants in the United States and Canada. It’s the largest overnight shipper of fresh fish in the restaurant industry.

Positive Themes

Diners praise the chain for its “great menu items,” and especially for its biscuits, followed by shrimp and crab legs.

  • Thanks to the FB comments and tweets of my friends, i’m now seriously craving domino’s pizza and Red Lobster cheddar bay biscuits! (source)
  • “@tweetn_le: I want some red lobster cheese biscuits” OMG SOUNDS TO GOOD LOL. (source)
  • Just enjoyed a delicious meal from Red Lobster…maple cherry glazed shrimp over wild rice. My sweet hubby treated me to dinner out for my b’day. Thanks, Baby! (source)

Consumers find Red Lobster meals “appetizing,” and “delicious.”

  • Ok so I hate seafood… But omg Red Lobster is delicious! (source)
  • Just ate at Red Lobster for the first time ever…it was pretty tasty! (source)

“Great for meals” is also an important theme.

  • So I’m officially in love with Red Lobster, I get a salad, cheese biscuits, crab legs, shrimp scampi, baked potato and fries for $20! (source)

Red Lobster prides itself on the freshness and quality of its seafood, but there weren’t a lot of positive comments about that. Here’s one about their raw oysters.

  • Allow to cool 3-6 minutes before serving. I make them about once a year and your recipe looks real good, especially with the absinthe. I had some real good raws at the Red Lobster last night. Allegedly they were gulf coast & one could bearly taste the oil.

Negative Themes

The biggest negative theme is “not safe to eat,” which is worrisome for any eating establishment, but especially so for a seafood restaurant. The sub-themes include “sanitation issues,” “unhealthy,” and “makes one feel bad.”

  • Red Lobster gave me food poisoning!!!! I was sick like a dog…. beer doesnt even do this to me. (source)
  • So Red Lobster gave my son spoiled milk!! He threw up everywhere i so should have threw a fit! (source)
  • Stupid red lobster! It made me throw up 4 times!!! (source)

This post is especially damaging because it apparently comes from an employee who’s talking about what goes on behind the scenes.

  • Don’t eat at the Red Lobster i’n Springfield I’ve seen cooks spit on plates, I’ve witnessed food dropped on the ground and then replated. And this is the worst I’ve seen a girl take shrimp off of a plate that was trash and she put it onto a fresh dish for her new customer who happened to be an 8 year old little girl. When I told management what happened they said the less food we waste the hire my bonus. (source)

“Not good tasting” is also a common complaint.

  • We went to Red Lobster to eat, where I ordered the crab. I ended up having to send it back twice. I love crab, but it smelled wrong in a bad way. And how the hell can you cook crab with absolutely zero seasoning. Jason I think you are going to have to go teach Red Lobster how to cook crab. (source)
  • I is nice see all of these lovely posts. I went to Red Lobster for dinner and I must say it was the worst meal ever. It was so dissapointing. The drink was good though. lol Hope you all have a blessed day. (source)

Many diners also consider the chain “expensive.”

  • Red Lobster is a tremendous waste of money. I could have had a 25 dollar steak!! (source)
  • I had a wonderful day and took off work on Friday and Monday…so it was extra special…Thanks again…I don’t rememnber Red Lobster being so expensive…lol. (source)

Insights

Diners aren’t all that enthusiastic about the freshness and quality of Red Lobster’s seafood—something they want to be known for, but apparently aren’t. Often diners don’t like the preparation—too much salt, butter and grease—and occasionally they find it makes them sick. If people complain to the restaurant about meals that make them sick, comping them their next meal, which many other restaurants do, is one way to make amends. Of course, identifying the source of the problem and fixing it is another.

Many also find the chain expensive in comparison to such competitors as TGI Friday’s.

Diners tend to spread their business among several restaurants in this segment—Red Lobster, Applebee’s, TGI Friday’s, Olive Garden. The one they eat at on a particular night is sometimes a matter of which is less crowded, which one they have a gift certificate for, or where the “birthday boy or girl” wants to go for their special night out.

But more often it’s a matter of what kind of food they feel like eating. In other words, that lack of allegiance to any one chain is evidence of a desire for variety on the part of diners, and they get that variety by going to the chain that specializes in the kind of food they’re craving. This is a good news/bad news scenario for Red Lobster, because they get the business from diners looking for seafood, but those same diners will go elsewhere for something else. The chains have been successful in differentiating themselves, so if diners want steak one night, they to Outback Steakhouse, if they want pasta, they go to Olive Garden, and if they want seafood, they go to Red Lobster. It turns out the same parent company—Darden—owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden, as well as a competitor to Outback called LongHorn Steakhouse. Maybe a cross-promotional campaign for all three restaurants could increase revenue for the parent company by keeping consumers interested in any of the three kinds of food “in house.”

So there’s an upside to being strongly identified with a certain kind of food—you get diners looking for that—but if diners aren’t in the mood for your specialty on a particular night, they’re probably going elsewhere. To increase “share of wallet,” I suppose the chain could promote itself as the place to go for dishes besides seafood, but that doesn’t really make a lot of marketing sense when your name is Red Lobster.

About Our Approach

To write this netnography, we analyzed thousands of posts from consumers about Red Lobster and identified the top positive and negative themes. The large-scale analysis is performed by a natural language processing (NLP) engine, then refined by human sampling.

To summarize our netnographies, we distill our findings into useful insights about how the brand we studied is positioned and perceived. We can provide confidence intervals for the percentages in the theme charts and our source data upon request.