Better stock up on the cheddar biscuits and shrimp prepared in an endless variety of ways; upon the news that Red Lobster’s parent company is not doing well financially, many are speculating that the chain may close its doors forever. Parent company Darden also announced that it is nixing the opening of any new Olive Garden as well as cutting down on new locations of LongHorn Steakhouses. The company has been struggling financially and recently reported a whopping 31 percent drop in earnings for its last quarter.
Darden has been discussing a “spinoff” restaurant, leaving some asking if that’s the same as a television show spinoff like The Jeffersons or Frasier. However, it appears Darden is not going to be “moving on up”; chatter is focused on more casual chains that offer fast food, such as Chipotle, as models for a possible Red Lobster spinoff. In fact, chains like Chipotle, Panera and others that offer very fast, freshly prepared food to diners in a rush are being blamed for Red Lobster’s demise.
Darden says the overall economy has prevented its main demographic from eating out at the price point expected for a restaurant like Red Lobster. Consumers, Darden CEO Clarence Otis seemed to suggest, are increasingly turning to establishments that offer lower prices, and those who can afford a higher price point haven’t been successfully captured by the Red Lobster brand. He said there have been “relatively low levels of consumer demand in each of the past several years for restaurants generally, and for casual dining in particular, as well as additional unexpected softness since June.”
Some consumers are saying that Darden may have underestimated the importance and focus on well-prepared, local, sustainable and “farm to table” type cuisine that the fine dining set craves. “If I’m going to pay $25.95 for an entrée, I could go down the street to the locally owned bistro and dine on locally sourced entrees, enjoy a much nicer and cleaner ambiance and drink imported wines. At the big chains, the whole experience is catered to their corporate office as opposed to the vision and desires of the local diner,” says Rob Green, a Philadelphia native. “There’s a Red Lobster near me, but I would pass it by every time for an independently owned place,” Green says.
Jezebel blogger Lindy West recently wrote a piece entitled People Don’t Want to Eat at Red Lobster or Olive Garden Anymore. In it, she nails what some might say is “the elephant in the room” by explaining:
So here’s ONE idea I had: If you want more people to eat at your restaurant, maybe make the food a tiny bit better? Like…serve people crab legs that actually have crab in them? Because it’s not like Olive Garden or Red Lobster are even that cheap. They’re kind of expensive! Why not just make the food, you know, worth the price?
When corporations ignore quality and the desires of diners in favor of the increasing bottom line of the company, they often find that bottom line shrinking rather than growing; and the realbottom line, and harsh reality for the big corporate execs, is that the food at Red Lobster and Olive Garden is often sub-par. Red Lobster may close its doors forever, but is that really such a bad thing? One thing’s for sure: if Olive Garden follows suit, many Italian foodies will rejoice.
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