INSIGHTS/

Red Lobster Whodunnit – It Was NOT the CEO, in the dining room, with the Shrimp

I want to dive into a recent development in the world of franchising: Red Lobster’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Initially, the buzz suggested that Red Lobster’s $20 endless shrimp promotion was the culprit behind their financial woes. It seemed almost like a game of Clue: the CEO in the dining room with the shrimp. However, […]

June 19, 2024

I want to dive into a recent development in the world of franchising: Red Lobster’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Initially, the buzz suggested that Red Lobster’s $20 endless shrimp promotion was the culprit behind their financial woes. It seemed almost like a game of Clue: the CEO in the dining room with the shrimp. However, as I delved deeper into the articles, I was stunned to learn that Red Lobster is $300 billion in debt. That’s $300 billion spread across 551 stores.

When the private equity group took over, they sold and leased back most of the real estate. This strategy provided immediate cash but also meant losing control over their properties. Frankly, I’m stunned at the idea of trying to operate 500-600 restaurants under the weight of $300 billion in debt. I have clients with 250-350 restaurants, and their debt levels are nowhere near proportional to this. As a lawyer, not a math guy, the debt service on such an astronomical amount is simply unmanageable, no matter how creative the financial strategies might be.

I haven’t found detailed financial analyses yet, but I’m at a loss to understand how anyone could think that accumulating $300 billion in debt for a restaurant chain with 600 stores was sustainable. The fundamental issue isn’t the shrimp; it’s the overwhelming debt.

In a broader context, many discuss the fundamentals of restaurant operations. Originally, Red Lobster owned significant real estate, which they sold off in a leaseback arrangement to bring in cash. While this can be a good short-term solution, it sacrifices long-term control. Once a landlord is involved, the dynamics change. You’re no longer just dealing with bank loans; now, the landlord also has leverage, making financial management more complicated.

The key lesson here isn’t as simple as advising against taking on massive debt because most of my clients, even the large family-owned businesses, don’t have access to such colossal sums to borrow. This case is more about the risks of losing control over key assets like real estate.

Despite these issues, Red Lobster isn’t disappearing. They’ll restructure their debt and continue operating. This situation underscores the importance of prudent financial management and the risks associated with heavy borrowing and real estate sales.

So, was it really the shrimp? No, it was the debt. Red Lobster will survive this, but their struggles have been evident in the trade press for a while. Remember to consider the long-term impacts of your financial decisions.

West Coast Franchise Law

If you have any questions about franchising, please contact the experienced franchise and business law attorneys at West Coast Franchise Law today at (206) 903-0401 to discuss your situation. Nate Riordan is a 2023 Franchise and Bankruptcy Super Lawyer with over 20 years expertise helping clients achieve their business goals.