Red Lobster’s Mobile Restaurant Changes Perceptions
After 15 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth, Darden’s management was challenged to find new ways to drive its business. Red Lobster didn’t have a brand awareness challenge, just a menu awareness one—as consumers thought of the chain as more about popcorn shrimp and fried clams than fresh mahi mahi and grilled tuna.
Red Lobster first entered mobile marketing in 2000 with Clawde, a VW tricked out as a crustacean. The effort was successful enough to get Darden marketers thinking about a larger endeavor, and a few months later the 63-foot, 27.5-ton “mobile restaurant” was born. (Clawde now handles charity and p.r. duties.)
Charged with encouraging trial of the chain’s revised menu by core users, light users and former users, the Red Lobster Experience headed out on the food and wine festival circuit last year. “People are usually eating hot dogs and snow cones at these events,” says Joe Sciara, co-president of Kansas City, MO-based Three Wide. “When we hand them some grilled salmon, they’re blown away.”
The self-contained mobile restaurant is essentially a mirror image of the newest Lobster restaurants, a sophisticated kitchen and dining establishment on wheels that can serve such dishes as basil-infused salmon and mahi-mahi to 1,000 people per hour. “We originally just wanted to show people what we do,” says Red Lobster marketing manager Jill Ramsier. “But now we’re seeing that we’re actually changing perception.”
The outside of the rig is inviting, with café tables and umbrellas set up for al fresco dining. The decor mirrors that of the newly reformatted Red Lobster restaurants (coastal living theme). Inside, there are three upright refrigerators, a seven-foot reach-in freezer, eleven- and three-burner grills, a three-section fryer, three-well sinks and two upright food warmers.
The vehicle shows up at one event per week, 17 weeks a year. The diesel truck (1,200 miles on one fill) has a 14-foot expandable slider and holds 220 gallons or fresh water and 225 gallons of waste water. A 14-foot by eight-foot canopy provides a full kitchen view. One interesting angle: Outside of the key Three Wide team, the truck is manned by servers and chefs culled from Red Lobsters in each market.
Sales in promise markets jumped five percent after the rig made a visit at a nearby event, and 86 percent of visitors to the Red Lobster Experience indicated they had a “better” opinion of the restaurant company after the event. Some 94 percent of attendees said they were “much more” or “somewhat more” interested in visiting a Red Lobster, and 91 percent rated the product sample excellent or extremely good. De-lish.