Photo: Ezra Pound Cake, Flickr
Seafood lovers, where are you?
That's the question surf-centric restaurants are asking, from titanic-sized chains like Red Lobster to mom-and-pop clam shacks. Though other types of restaurants are starting to see their sales increase as the country slowly recovers from the recession, it appears that it's going to take more than another all-you-can-eat shrimp special to lure diners in for fish again.
As the Orlando Sentinel reports, sales at America's largest seafood chains during the recession sunk far faster than at other restaurants, in part owing to the fact that cash-strapped customers were shying away from higher-priced fare like lobster tails and seared salmon. While major restaurants overall saw their sales fall .8 percent in 2009, sales at seafood chains dropped 5.2 percent. Take Red Lobster, for example. Its parent company, Darden Restaurants, also owns the Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. During the last quarter of 2010, sales at those two chains were up 2 percent and 6.8 percent, respectively, while Red Lobster sales were down 1.6 percent, causing Darden to revise its growth target for the year, according to Reuters.
Darden has set aside $350 million to renovate all 700 Red Lobster locations during the next four years, but mod lighting and wood-fired grills may not be enough to right this ship's course. Consumers continue to be wary of seafood in the wake of last summer's oil spill in the gulf (despite the fact that only 2 to 3 percent of the seafood Americans eat comes from there), and prices are skyrocketing. Darden told analysts that it expects it's going to have to pay 11 percent more for its seafood in the coming year and a half.
To paraphrase Capt. Ahab: "That blows."