Did you think about fictionalizing the restaurant, rather than calling it a Red Lobster?
Very briefly. But then I thought, “No, let’s stick with this recognizable American icon.”
To what degree are the details menu items such as Aztec chicken, for instance true to an actual Red Lobster?
All the menu items are straight from the menu, which I pilfered. I carry a rucksack-type bag and tossed stuff in there drink menu, lunch menu, coasters. I’d take a camera to the Lobster, and I’d be sitting there with my family taking pictures.
What else proved useful for your research?
The blogs by people who were actively working there. They were usually pissed off about their shifts and who got sat at their tables. There were a lot of complaints about customers.
You must’ve come across news about labor lawsuits did you think about writing a more explicit indictment of Darden Restaurants?
I’m not sure it’s an indictment of Red Lobster. I came around to Manny’s viewpoint of, “Here’s a valuable institution that’s been lost, and I wish I could save it, but I can’t.” A lot of people see chains as something to poke fun at. There are a lot of things wrong with them, but any place where folks can go to have a good time and feel special
At one point Ty, the African-American chef, describes the cuisine as “white people food for white people,” but Manhattan’s Red Lobster is popular among African-Americans did you think about race while writing?
I saw a lot of that on the blogs. I wanted to leave that alone a little bit. In the case of the area I was writing about New Briton, Connecticut it’s typical that the service economy is very multicultural, where folks coming to the mall are white-bread folks from richer suburbs.
During your research, what surprised you the most about Red Lobster?
I guess I was surprised by how much was not fresh. I was also shocked that Red Lobster, unlike other chains, isn’t franchised, so you can’t succeed by running it.