The iconic casual chain is ringing in the milestone with a new menu, kitchen upgrades, and the same commitment to customers that has stretched half a century.

It isn’t every day a restaurant brand turns 50. Red Lobster doesn’t consider itself your everyday restaurant, either. It made sense then for the casual-dining leader to roll out a sweepstakes that was anything but ordinary to mark the occasion. In a promotion that ended February 8, guests could submit a picture of their favorite Red Lobster memory on social media to enter a chance to win one of 50 “gold” cards and unlock free food for a year.

Since becoming an independent company in 2014, Red Lobster has opened 22 new restaurants, and its 50th year is turning out to be a memorable one. The chain recently launched a new menu highlighting Tasting Plates, made some significant kitchen upgrades, including new equipment, like lobster & crab pots and sauté stations, and introduced fresh technology to ensure all components of each order finishes cooking at the same time. Additionally, Red Lobster unveiled its Seafood with Standards platform, detailing its commitments to serving the highest quality seafood that is sourced in a manner that is traceable, sustainable, and responsible.

Red Lobster took some time to chat with FSR about the changes, what’s in store, and what turning 50 really means.

Fifty years is a big deal in any industry, but especially in this one. How did the free Red Lobster for a year promotion come about? What about it made it feel like a perfect fit to celebrate such a milestone?

As we celebrate our 50th Anniversary, we want to express our gratitude to our guests who choose Red Lobster as their favorite seafood destination. The Golden Card Sweepstakes is our way of saying thank you to our most loyal fans by giving them a chance to win Red Lobster for a year.

When the decision to launch a new menu came about, what were some of the goals Red Lobster wanted to accomplish?

We heard from our guests that they want to eat seafood with us more often for other occasions and in different formats. So, we are introducing a new menu with new ways to enjoy seafood, including our new Tasting Plates and Globally Inspired entrées that provide a variety of ways to try new flavors at an affordable price point. In addition, the new menu takes advantage of the recent investments we’ve made in upgrading our kitchens, including new equipment, like lobster & crab pots and sauté stations, and new technology that improves the pace of meal. Better equipment means our food is fundamentally better—and our guests will taste it in every bite.

How have guests responded to the changes so far and what do you see evolving over time?

In testing, our guests told us that the new menu increases occasion relevance, such as a casual night out with friends or a date night. We’re seeing that pull through as we’ve introduced the menu nationally.  

Why a tasting menu? Has Red Lobster seen a demand for more “snacking” and sharable options in recent years, especially with younger diners joining the fold, an added emphasis on happy hour guests, and bar seating?

We are always looking for ways to improve our guests’ experience. We’ve spent a lot of time listening to what is most important to our guests and learned that when it comes to dining out, their needs and appetites are evolving. This is particularly true when it comes to millennials who are looking for more choices and affordable options.

Red Lobster is known as a celebration destination. Through new platforms like Tasting Plates and happy hour, and even online ordering, we’re creating a variety of dining occasions for our guests to enjoy Red Lobster.

Talk about the kitchen upgrades. What kind of testing went into the process to install lobster & crab pots and sauté stations, and what are some of the other key changes? How are the changes improving Red Lobster’s kitchen operations and execution?

We recently completed the most transformational changes to our kitchens, including a $51 million investment in new equipment and back-of-house technology that allows us to improve the quality of our food and pace of meal. We have introduced lobster and crab pots, sauté stations, and new kitchen display systems in every restaurant location.

In addition, we’ve made investments in training our people to ensure they have the culinary skills, knowledge and equipment to prepare and serve the best seafood. 

Since becoming an independent company in 2014, Red Lobster has added 22 franchised restaurants abroad. Is the big opportunity global right now?

We have been growing internationally since 2010 and see opportunities to expand in both domestic and international markets. We currently have 704 company-owned restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, as well as 44 franchised restaurants in nine countries and most recently San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Red Lobster's New Menu Laid Out On A Table

Through new platforms like Tasting Plates and happy hour, and even online ordering, Red Lobster says it’s creating a variety of dining occasions for guests.

How is the concept received in other countries?

Red Lobster is a well-known and loved brand around the world, so the concept has been very well received internationally. We will continue to seek opportunities to grow both domestically and abroad to achieve our vision to be where the world goes for seafood, now and for generations.

Delivery and off-premise are big initiatives in casual dining right now, and Red Lobster recently launched online ordering. How does Red Lobster plan to grow this part of its business and what are some of the challenges with transporting seafood?

Off-premise is a key area of growth for us. We know our guests are busy, but they’re also looking for convenience and a great meal. We recently launched online ordering nationwide and are testing delivery with a variety of services like Door Dash, Grubhub, OrderUp, and Amazon Restaurants. We see incredible opportunity here and are confident that these initiatives will yield positive results.

With the Seafood with Standards platform, Red Lobster is taking a leading role in a topic not many large brands address on this scale. How important is it for Red Lobster to be a leader in this movement?

Since our founding 50 years ago, Red Lobster has been committed to seafood sustainability. We work with trusted suppliers who follow best industry practices, and we believe it is ourresponsibility to protect and preserve our oceans and marine life for generations to come.

We’re proud to unveil our Seafood with Standards platform, detailing our commitment to serving the highest quality seafood that is traceable, sustainable and responsible.

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Feature, Red Lobster