Why Is Red Lobster So Cheap?

When it comes to buying food, and especially when it comes to eating out, it's always a toss-up between cheap but risky, or the safe but expensive. This isn't to say that you can't enjoy a good seafood meal without breaking the bank or visiting urgent care. Red Lobster is well-known for being a seafood restaurant that's both filling but not too terribly expensive, and served in a comfortable, clean atmosphere that creates an ambiance of enjoying a good meal.

There are plenty of choices on the menu at Red Lobster. The dining establishments are justifiably famous for their savory biscuits, and many people attribute their quick growth to one popular dish they're said to have invented: popcorn shrimp. The company has shown heart as well, perhaps most recently by sparing the life of a rare calico lobster and sending the lucky creature to finish its days at a living museum. But about the food: Just how does this lobster house serve its seafood so cheaply compared to the other seafood restaurants out there?

Shell Game: the truth About Red Lobster's seafood

As with most chain restaurants, the products that are served up in Red Lobster usually are shipped in frozen (via Delish). There's nothing wrong with that, unless you consider yourself a seafood purist and want a sea-to-table sort of experience. You'll pay more for fresh fish, but you'll pay less for fish that's been on ice for a while. 

According to Reddit user u/Mremerkin, Red Lobster can sell their lobster so cheaply because of two other factors: The seafood is purchased in bulk and shipped out to various franchises, and it's purchased out of the country. Now, obviously, you're not getting Maine lobster from the Gulf of Mexico, but what you can get from those beautiful waters is the beloved rock lobster, and from the cooler waters of the Pacific by Costa Rica one can find langostino lobster. Simply ordering these all in bulk, shipping them on ice, and holding them all in a big freezer helps to keep the cost of seafood down enough to be affordable, without being in danger of mass spoiling or causing concern among customers.

However, those Cheddar Biscuits they serve with that garlic butter — worth their weight in gold, they are.

Red Lobster's sourcing secrets

While Red Lobster's seafood is shipped in on ice from "outside the country," like from the Gulf of Mexico, it's still a wonder just where exactly Red Lobster gets all this crab and lobster. After all, it wouldn't be profitable in the long run to have a constant supply of Ultimate Feasts and Endless Shrimp Mondays if you're serving your seafood so inexpensively — unless you're willing to maybe bend the rules a bit. To add to this mystery, Red Lobster managers are tight-lipped about their sourcing, cryptically mentioning that it's "kind of confidential" and that it "comes from all over the world" (via MIC). What exactly is so secret about seafood?

Of course, Red Lobster has their own claims to what exactly their sources are. Via their website, the company claims that their sources for their lobster include New England, Canada, Brazil, the Caribbean, the coasts of Scotland and Chile — and that's just for their lobster alone. Alongside an exhaustive list of where they catch everything, from their cod to their shrimp, Red Lobster also promotes Seafood with Standards, promising that their catches can be traced back to "long-term suppliers" and to a "known and trusted source." They also claim that they work with suppliers who promote responsible, mindful farming — a claim that may not hold as much water as they say, given a 2021 lawsuit regarding inhumane and unsustainable practices at Red Lobster's shrimp farms in Southeastern Asia (via Seafood Source).

Red Lobster's 'lobster' might not be lobster at all

In 2016, Inside Edition ran an investigative report on over 28 seafood restaurants, including Red Lobster, to determine if the lobster meat used in their dishes was actually lobster at all. In 35% percent of the chosen dishes, a cheap seafood-alternative to lobster was found in lieu of the sweet and tender delicacy you would be expecting. Before you think that the lobster in your lobster bisque is actually some sort of synthesized slurry made in a factory and molded to look like lobster meat, you would fortunately be incorrect. Red Lobster's bisque was discovered to have langostino lobster meat, a species which is more closely related to a hermit crab than a lobster (via Seafood Source).

But why use langostino meat in the first place? According to a statement from a Red Lobster spokesperson, the use of langostino meat is the answer to the problem of not being able to eat lobster out of season, and that sometimes a combination of both lobster and langostino meat is used. The spokesperson continued that both types of lobster provide "a rich, sweet taste that our guests love." Langostino is also much cheaper than its more sought-after relative, and since it tastes nearly the same (unless one has a particularly refined palette), it would help to keep the price for a lobster bisque and some cheddar rolls down. It may be a fishy situation, but it keeps both customer and company happy.