Thirty-four plates of shrimp.
Red Lobster’s “Endless Shrimp” promotion is a yearly phenomenon. However, as two shrimp-loving reporters, we couldn’t help but wonder: how endless is the shrimp?
Early in September, Red Lobster announced the return of its famed deal. For $21.99 — likely cheaper in markets outside of New York City — you can go and eat as many shrimp as you can.
But this deal seems to good to be true. Surely, Red Lobster wouldn’t want you to gorge on shrimp for hours on end? And there’s no way that the 100th shrimp would taste nearly as good as the first, right?
Here’s our intrepid crustaceous crusade from sweaty “Shrimp Madness” to shrimp ecstasy.
The cool, late summer breeze made us feel as though we belonged on a pebble beach with a shrimp cocktail in one hand, and a regular cocktail in the other.
We arrived to the Times Square Red Lobster with a plan in mind: to stay as long as possible, eating shrimp the entire time. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner: shrimp.
We had called ahead and told Red Lobster of our intentions -- for journalism's sake -- hoping to reduce the chance of being expelled for our time-consuming shrimp consumption. The restaurant said it should be no problem, with no formal time limits to the promotion.
In 2015, Red Lobster increased the size of its shrimp by 47% in an effort to combat complaints of sub-par shrimp size.
With the larger shrimp in mind, we were concerned regarding how many shrimp we could actually down in a day. We decided upon a goal of 100 shrimp between us, hoping to try each of the five types of shrimp under the promotion.
While there are other shrimp items on Red Lobster's menu, only these five are part of the 'Endless Shrimp' deal. Although there is a secret Endless Shrimp menu -- but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Red Lobster's Times Square location is the epitome of upscale nautical chain decor: dim lighting, no windows (not unlike a casino), rich and dark varnished wood, and a playlist ranging from Mumford & Sons to dulcet, smooth Dad-rock tones.
Our fearless server Jonathan -- truly our Virgil through this crustaceous Divine Comedy -- gave us a full spiel on the menu and the Endless Shrimp deal. He dutifully told us of Red Lobster's fresh fish offerings and the like, but we only had eyes for one special snack of the sea: shrimp.
The deal comes with a salad, one side, and an endless supply of the iconic Cheddar Bay biscuits. But when aiming to push the limits of shrimp consumption by sheer numbers, some sacrifices have to be made.
Forget the Lobsterita: your drink of choice is water. Hydration is key.
The choice of sides includes an array of starches, including a sweet corn 'cobbette', roasted baby potatoes, the new whipped sweet potatoes with pecans, as well as broccoli and brussel sprouts.
The best choices here are the greens. The starches will fill you up faster than the nets of a shrimp trawler off the coast of Louisiana, and you need to save your appetite for the shrimp.
Sadly, the same advice goes for the Cheddar Bay biscuits; as alluring the aroma may be, they are best left untouched. Don't worry -- you can request a bag to go to enjoy at your leisure, post-shrimp coma.
The salad is an easy choice: either a garden salad, or a Caesar salad. Obviously go with the iceberg-laden garden salad, as the Caesar dressing is starting on the wrong foot -- and this is a marathon, folks.
Finally, the hour is at hand. Our first orders arrive, along with our sprouts. Hollis' order was the peppercorn and parmesan shrimp, and the garlic sriracha-grilled shrimp. Your first round includes two orders; every order hereafter is one at a time.
From the first bite, we realised that the peppercorn and parmesan shrimp were something special. They're a new-comer this year, bringing a salty, cheesy, and herb-heavy taste to the more traditional breaded shrimp. The accompanying lemon aioli is decent, but heavy -- a dab will do you.
The garlic sriracha-grilled shrimp is another new addition to the Endless Shrimp menu; they're certainly garlicky, and the sriracha drizzled over the grilled and skewered shrimp packs some sharp heat.
Kate ordered the shrimp scampi and the garlic sriracha-grilled shrimp for her first round.
The scampi, as Kate so aptly puts it, is truly the bread and butter of Endless Shrimp. At times, the butter sea the shrimp swims in can be overwhelming, but with a simple shake of the shrimp, the excess is dispatched and there is no better shrimp to be had.
It's a delicate dish, and when the butter is at lower levels, the bright lemon flavour shines through.
Shrimp count (combined): 27
A mythical figure soon emerged from the salty fogs of Endless Shrimp lore: Vince.
Legend has it (according to our waiter, Jonathan) that Vince shows up regularly to this location of Red Lobster to take advantage of the promotion, sometimes ordering up to 30 plates of scampi. Just the day before, Jonathan reported Vince's shrimpy spread included 17 orders of scampi and two orders of the pasta alfredo.
We were shocked to learn of Vince's inclusion of shrimp alfredo in his feast. To order the carb-loaded, cream-based dish seemed like true hubris in the face of the Endless Shrimp spirit: surely just one order would fill you up prematurely, let alone two.
Shrimp count: 43
The shrimp scampi is a dish so closely linked to the legendary shrimper that when he walks in, they know to begin preparation immediately.
And we can see why -- the scampi is a gem. It's wildly enjoyable to eat, albeit messy, but is far from filling. With an average of five shrimp per scampi dish, it's a light, buttery respite on your culinary odyssey.
The traditional breaded shrimp are basically the peppercorn and parmesan shrimp, without the vaguely Italian flavour blast. It's the tried and true classic that's... fine. The cocktail sauce that comes with it is probably the most exciting part; it's acidic, vinegary, and it breaks up the monotony of the breaded shrimp as we cruised past the 50 shrimp mark.
Shrimp count: 58
We've tried 'em all, and we like 'em all.
It feels as though we've only just sat down, despite being a good hour and a half in. The shrimp puns are as endless as the shrimp, and spirits are high.
We were so excited about shrimp, we began drafting our shrimp-inspired Halloween costume ideas. 'We're shrimp champs, not shrimp chumps!' became our mantra.
Shrimp count: 72
Two hours in, and we've heard three different Mumford & Sons songs. Kate downloaded the Shazam app to figure out what other songs were playing -- they were familiar, yet the names always just out grasp. (sidenote: 'Superwoman' by Shontell is a great song.)
We realise that the 100-shrimp goal is far too easy. We were already cruising in on the mark, and we were feeling fine. If we were doing this at our leisure, then perhaps this would have been a good moment to stop -- but this wasn't about fun. This was about the challenge.
Shrimp count: 82
Our coworkers -- and presumably, fans -- were growing concerned at this point. Our editor tweeted, 'OMG concerned' in response to our increasingly absurd shrimp tweets.
We appeared live on Business Insider's Facebook Live feed, sharing our strategies, stories, and current state of physical and emotional health. Everyone seemed suspicious of how happy were, but concern was far from our minds as we crushed the 100-shrimp mark.
Brushing aside the previous goal with ease, we set a new target: 200 shrimp.
Shrimp count: 102
The shrimp is still tasting very good -- maybe too good.
At three hours in, we began to feel a bit like the Shrimp Family Robinson, cast away on Red Lobster's Endless Shrimp lsland. We felt disconnected from the outside world, and time was no longer moving in a linear fashion. The possibility of hallucination haunted the table -- we swear we spotted a Microsoft Zune charging in the distance, five years after being discontinued.
Fortunately, the garlic sriracha shrimp provided an anchor to our sanity. The sriracha cut through the shrimpy monotony, providing brief respites of lucidity.
Also, we noticed the stunning plating, with the sriracha lovingly drizzled across the grilled crustacean.
Shrimp count: 126
Shrimp Madness was in full swing.
We began to concoct a shrimp-based staging of Sartre's 'No Exit' as we happily munched on scampi.
The haunting play is best summed up with the line: 'L'enfer, c'est les autres,' or 'Hell is other people.' Our version of the play, set in the windowless second story of the Time Square Red Lobster, instead hypothesizes that 'L'enfer, c'est les plus de crevettes,' or 'Hell is more shrimp.'
On Kate's fourth personal serving of scampi, she was shocked by how good it was.
'Now this is a good scampi,' she said, emphatically.
To be fair, the shrimp were not drowning in this rich butter sauce, but instead lounging as if dipping their shrimpy periopods and pleopods in the jus of the sea, while sunning on the beach at Sandal's resort.
This was indeed a good scampi.
Shrimp count: 142
The Red Lobster manager, who had been periodically checking in on us, asked us if we heard of the secret menu.
Our jaws dropped, and our half-eaten shrimp hit the plates.
There are three items that are not on the official Endless Shrimp menu that customers can, in fact, order as part of the promotion. Prime among these: coconut popcorn shrimp.
These tailless tropical wonders are complete game changers. Just as the creeping danger of flavour fatigue threatened to put us out of the game, coconut popcorn shrimp lit a fire beneath us. The dish was slightly sweet, thanks to the coconut shreds worked into the crispy breading.
And the sauce -- oh! the sauce. The delicious melange of piña colada-inspired flavours included juicy chunks of pineapple and a creamy coconut base. Hollis soon began eating the sauce with a fork, throwing carbo-caution to the wind.
As Ray LaMontagne's 'You Are the Best Thing' played over Red Lobster's speakers, we agreed: this coconut popcorn shrimp was truly The Best Thing.
Shrimp count: 195
With the popcorn coconut shrimp on the table, we sailed past our goal of 200 with the ease of a shrimp trawler with the wind at its back.
As we each passed our individual 100-shrimp marks, we allowed ourselves a treat. Jonathan recommended pairing the Endless Shrimp with a refreshing mojito. Hoping the mint would bolster digestion, we gladly ordered one each.
However, Kate was floundering. She'd been hit with the shrimp sweats, and the sheer amount of shrimp was beginning to weigh upon her. She slowed her pacing, and was forced to follow the mojito with a ginger ale, in hopes that she could rally as the shrimp count blossomed.
Meanwhile, Hollis was having no such problem.
Emboldened by the coconut popcorn shrimp, he proclaimed shrimp to be the candy of the sea. And indeed, he was throwing back those coconut shrimp like TicTacs, racking up a healthy count. The shrimp count soared as the popcorn shrimp took center stage.
Shrimp count: 235
After a break, Kate was ready to battle Endless Shrimps' notorious Great White Whale that had been dogging us all day.
The shrimp linguini alfredo dwarfed the other options in terms of calorie count: 620 compared to the other dishes' 250 calorie range. We knew we had to try it, as we had pledged to try all available dishes, but we were wary. The dish combined shrimp with the carbo-load of pasta, plus the cream bomb of alfredo.
We worried that just a few bites would capsize our maritime mission just as we neared safe harbour.
It was 6 pm, and we'd been at Red Lobster for six-and-a-half hours. We feverishly crunched the numbers and devised a foolproof plan for the final sprint: Hollis would go all-in on the coconut popcorn to rack up the numbers and Kate would bravely tackle the enigmatic pasta dish.
Was this to be a shrimpy Waterloo, a mere few dozen shrimp away from the goal? Or, would we triumph in our gastronomical quest?
Shrimp count: 276
The Red Lobster gods smiled down on us from their perches in Orlando, Florida (Red Lobster's headquarters). The shrimp in the pasta alfredo were blessedly small and numerous.
Hollis was eating the coconut popcorn shrimp like he was born to do it. Do we believe in destiny? Perhaps.
We counted down the 10 final shrimp live, alternating pasta and popcorn. Our fans -- fellow Business Insider colleagues and Jonathan -- cheered as we clinked our forks and cleared the 300-shrimp mark.
It was a joyous and bountiful Shrimpsgiving, indeed.
Shrimp count: 300
Nearly eight hours after we ate our first shrimp, Red Lobster was still cooking up winners. Hollis continued to eat shrimp, not wanting a single nugget to go to waste. As the plates were cleared, he had personally consumed 162 shrimp.
Kate, not far behind, netted 143 shrimp. She pawned her remaining prawns off on Hollis and on-lookers -- but she wasn't quite done with Red Lobster for the night.
The alluring Cheddar Bay biscuits had been singing their cheesy siren song all day. And at last, we gave in, asking for a fresh bag to go, as is every Endless Shrimp-goer's right.
We learned a lot that day at Red Lobster.
We found the chain's shrimp to far exceed expectations. We discovered the human capacity for shrimp consumption is great and inspiring. We met one of the kindest servers to be found in the world, in the form of Red Lobster's shining star, Jonathan.
Would we do it all again? Certainly.
We're already planning for Shrimpsgiving 2017. The quality is great, and the quantity is endless. And, be on the lookout for Kate Taylor and Hollis Johnson's Off-Off-Off Broadway production of 'No Exit: Gone Shrimpin'.'
Final shrimp count: 305
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