Red Lobster Aims For An Elusive Catch: The Upscale Diner

Er, date night?

If "Endless Shrimp" doesn’t get you in the door at Red Lobster, maybe gourmet-style "vertical" plating will do the trick?

The struggling seafood chain, recently sold by Darden Restaurants to Golden Gate Capital for a paltry $2.1 billion, is hoping to lure in new customers with a more upscale dining experience. CEO Kim Lopdrup’s initial strategy: redesigning how Red Lobster plates its dishes.

Going forward, menu items like "Wood Grilled Tilapia" will be presented on a circular plate, with the tilapia fillets arranged on top of rice pilaf. Up until now, each dish was sectioned off and spread horizontally across a rectangular plate.

Vertical-style plating has signaled sophistication ever since Gotham Bar and Grill chef Alfred Portale mastered the technique in the '80s and '90s, earning starred reviews for his towering compositions. Most high-end chefs have evolved their style since then (even Portale refers to tall plates as a hallmark of the "olden days"), but don't tell that to Red Lobster.

"At the end of the day, people are not going to go a Chipotle for their anniversary or their birthday," Lopdrup, a former Darden executive, told the Associated Press. With the redesign, Red Lobster’s menu will be "more like you'd see at a fine-dining restaurant."

In recent years consumers have been abandoning mid-tier restaurants like Red Lobster in favor of fast-casual chains like Baja Fresh and Panera Bread, which offer quality above that of fast-food chains without the hassles of sit-down dining. At the same time, the cultural winds are shifting toward locally grown, sustainable food, leaving Red Lobster menu items like a lobster pot pie that contains just half an ounce of lobster meat in the doldrums.

For now, Lodrup says, the food available at Red Lobster will not change. He plans to reverse a 2012 decision to add more non-seafood menu options, but otherwise is keeping ingredients, if not aesthetics, in place.

[H/T GrubStreet]

[Images: Courtesy of Red Lobster]

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2 Comments

  • Francesca Zampollo

    Hey interesting! I wonder whether they took into consideration my study on food plating preferences published in 2012! Zampollo, F., Wansink, B., Kniffin, K. M., Shimizu, M., & Omori, A. (2012). Looks good enough to eat: How food plating preferences differ across cultures and continents. Cross Cultural Research, 46(1), 31-49.