Restaurant News

Did you say Red Lobster? Seafood chain is tops among millennials, survey says

ORLANDO -- Red Lobster is the hottest casual dining brand among young millennials with help from a revamped menu and shout-outs from Beyonce.

A survey from trade publication Nation's Restaurant News gave the Orlando-based seafood chain preference among diners ages 18-24. Even CEO Kim Lopdrup said he was taken aback by the news.

"It's interesting because we are just focusing on being the best seafood restaurant in each area that we serve, not necessarily on attracting young people," Lopdrup said.

The ranking put them just ahead of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and First Watch.

After all, Red Lobster did get a mention at the Super Bowl and on the latest single from pop star Beyonce.

Red Lobster got a double-digit sales increase in the days following the single's release and the Super Bowl

halftime performance.

The company has noticed an age shift in the restaurants, though.

The 48-year-old Red Lobster has not historically been a favorite among young people, and for years the average customer age was older than other casual dining chains.

"Now we are right in the middle compared to other casual dining restaurants," Lopdrup said.

Restaurant staffers have noticed the changes too, he said.

But Lopdrup said a lot of it has to do with the changes Red Lobster has made since being sold by Darden Restaurants two years ago to a private investment firm.

Red Lobster has been overhauling its menu, adding more seasonal ingredients such as sockeye salmon and Bairdi crab.

The restaurant recently announced it would put bigger shrimp on the menu as well as add flavors like chimichurri.

It's also trying to mark itself as a seafood specialist, and the company's same-restaurant sales have improved every quarter since it was sold in July 2014.

Red Lobster also rose to No. 4 in the overall rankings among casual dining chains, a list topped by Cheesecake Factory.