Just ask for Lobster Lover Joe
The Rooster travels to Georgesville Road to break bread with the No. 1 Red Lobster fan in the world.
“I’m here to see Lobster Lover Joe,” I said to the Red Lobster host just as I’d been instructed to say by the big man himself.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Joe is expecting you.”
As she escorted me to the bar area, I reminded myself that I wasn’t meeting a mafia boss at the legitimate business front of his underground empire. I was meeting the presumably mortal man behind Red Lobster Lover Joe, a mysterious Columbus, Ohio-based Twitter account featuring one man’s culinary adventures at Red Lobster:
Joe followed The Rooster due to a Google News Alert he received in September when The Rooster reported that Red Lobster Lover Joe was indeed a real person and not a Red Lobster psy-op. I sent the enigma a direct message and arranged to meet him Saturday at his Georgesville stomping grounds.
His only stipulation was no picture. I granted the understandable request considering how many freaks are on the loose these days. You’ll have to trust me when I say that if you saw Red Lobster Lover Joe on the street, you would not think, “There goes a big wig in the Red Lobster Universe.”
But a big wig is exactly what Joe has become in over two decades of patronizing Red Lobster as a way to manage an arthritis diagnosis.
“Joe is definitely The Man. He holds it down for all of us. He loves it here just like we love him; that’s for sure. We could put his name on the front door.”
- Christina, Red Lobster waitress
Joe was born and raised in Columbus. He turned a childhood passion for computers into a career, from which he retired, for a Fortune 500 company.
There is only one employee who has worked at the Georgesville Road Red Lobster as long as Joe has been frequenting the establishment. Executives check his Flickr account as a matter of quality control. The corporate office sends him Christmas cards.
What follows is our edited conversation.
So, you’re a legitimate lover of Red Lobster?
A lover of seafood in general. But mostly Red Lobster because as you know, they’re all over the place. It’s a national chain.
How did it start? What was your first experience?
In September 1999, I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in both knees. Well, this location [at Georgesville Road in Columbus] had its grand opening in 2002.
After doing some research on my rheumatoid arthritis, [I read] that fresh fish helps ease the pain. So I started coming here because this is the closest location between Grove City where I worked and Galloway, where I live. So I could easily stop here a couple of nights a week.
As time went by, I was able to reduce my medicine for arthritis. It was around maybe 2010. I was off my arthritis medicine only and still visiting here for fresh fish and seafood. So that's initially how I started focusing on Red Lobster because there are no real good seafood places [in Columbus], right? There’s not.
I was initially using foodspotting.com that I had heard about on a podcast. You could go there and see what the entrees and food for a restaurant you’re either looking to visit or visiting.
So it’s like, “Oh, I’m going to Red Lobster. I’m going to start uploading my pictures.”
How often did you come? Just a couple of times a week?
It depends. When I was working, I was working long hours. My record here is seven visits in six days. But that didn’t happen very often.
But [the Georgesville Red Lobster] is where I would meet family, friends, or coworkers. And then on a Saturday, you know, I'll be here maybe for a lunch. And then that evening, some people will call and say, “Oh, well, the family and I were going there for endless shrimp, would be like to go?” And it’s like, “Oh, how can I refuse?”
How much do you think you spend in a year at Red Lobster?
I’m guessing at least $2,500.
Why I would best guess that is because during the month of December, they sell gift cards at 10 percent off if you buy a grand or more. I buy $2,500 every December to get me through most of the year.
That doesn’t include the ones I get for birthdays, Christmases, or any special events.
Anybody who knows you knows to get a Red Lobster gift card?
Do you ever look outside Red Lobster when you travel? Or are you going straight to Red Lobster?
I would traditionally look for a Red Lobster. Because you know what they offer and know what to expect.
What’s your favorite all-time meal at Red Lobster?
Lobster, shrimp and scallops with brown butter and a water.
Where would you take a person to convert them to Red Lobster?
I would take them here [to Georgesville Road] because this is the one I visit the most. And being that most of the crew and staff know me, I always get the best service.
Is there anybody in your realm as a Red Lobster regular?
I've been out to the Heath location a few times previous to the pandemic. There was a lady there, I guess she comes in like every other day, year-round. It was an older lady, but still it’s every other day. You can imagine what she spends because they greeted her at the door like they do me here. It's like, “Oh, you're somebody else they know.”
All right, we got a few questions from Twitter here. Rough estimate on the number of cheddar biscuits consumed over time?
That would be tough because as you look through my Twitter feed, I don't always have the Cheddar Bay Biscuit yet for two reasons.
One is, do you fill up quickly?
And number two, the calories in the biscuits. The clothes don't always fit very well if you eat them in every setting. So, if it’s only myself, for the last five or ten years, I forgo the biscuits.
What’s your favorite restaurant other than Red Lobster?
I would have to say the Old Bag of Nails in Hilliard. I go there a few times a month with family members.
Do you ever cook?
There are just three of us: Me, myself, and I. It’s easier to go out.
When did you know your persona had caught on?
Once I created the Flickr account and the Twitter account, different [Red Lobster guests] would see me taking pictures [of my meals]. That’s when I created a business card I pass out.
Has Red Lobster ever reached out to you on a corporate level? Are they aware of your presence?
I have met a few senior vice presidents [at Georgesville Road]. The past president, I've met here. I see senior vice presidents visiting the other locations.
All the managers at the Central Ohio locations and the one in Heath know me very well. Usually, Guest Services will send me a Christmas card with a gift card. And sometimes the corporate office as well.
Then, what’s nice about being a regular, is during my visits I get free food. Sometimes an entree here, an appetizer over there, or a dessert over here.
What I try to do is to help them out as well. When the new menu comes out, I try to start with all the new items and get pictures out there.
So what’s in-season? What’s the hot item right now?
Right now, it’s the Create Your Own Ultimate Feast.
What’s that get me?
They have loaded mac and cheese. Imagine macaroni and cheese with lobster shrimp and bacon bits. It's amazing. That and their new Cheddar Bay Biscuit shrimp. They have some mixture where it's added to the shrimp. And it has this ranch sauce with green onions and cheese that you dip it in. It’s amazing.
Does Red Lobster corporate ever take any feedback from you?
Oh, absolutely. Yes.
When you come in, it’s like, “Joe, we have an item for you.”
Exactly. Or, “Next week, we may be starting a new item that has these ingredients and is called ‘this.’”
You get a lot of inside information.
Oh yes. Plus, being a Rewards member, if they have a new entree coming out, we’ll get the heads up on that, too. Like for the endless shrimp, members could come in a week before, show their phone number, and try the shrimp.
How much does the endless shrimp run?
I believe it’s $22.
That’s a good price.
And you get one side and of course all the scrumptious biscuits you can eat.
They want you to eat those biscuits, huh? The biscuits are how they get you.
Exactly. But they’re so mouthwatering.
What’s your favorite Red Lobster other than Georgesville Road?
I would have to say Newark.
What are the differences?
The biggest thing I have found is the farther away from the city that you are, the more warm or welcoming the overall location.
Newark is just west of Zanesville. It’s rural, per se. They're always very welcoming. And with a lot of [Red Lobsters in cities], with the exception of [Georgesville Road], you kind of go in, [and] it's like, “Oh, okay, we have another customer.”
… But [in Newark], it seems more relaxed. They want you to enjoy yourself and stay for your visit.
So what do you do in your spare time?
Photography and helping family and friends with different computer projects.
You’ve probably seen a lot of porn on people’s computers, huh?
Oh yeah. That and viruses. [They’ll say,] “It’s from my dad!” Oh, no. Oh, no.
Is there any porn that’s seared into your mind forever?
No. It’s like, “Delete it and go on.”
What’s the worst excuse you’ve ever heard for somebody having porn on their computer?
They accidentally clicked a link and it installed and downloaded files.
It’s one thing if your computer has a single virus. But if your computer is riddled, it’s like…
Oh, yes. Exactly. You can tell they’re a regular user.
Any food photography tips?
Make sure it’s a well-lit area so you don’t have to use your flash. Because like plates here, [the flash] gives them a blue cast. Then, of course, because they’re digital pictures, make sure you take multiple [pictures] so you can choose the best one.
So have you legitimately eaten everything on the menu?
Pretty much everything. I think there are very few things I haven’t had.
Do you always dine in or do you carry out sometimes?
Always dine in. During the pandemic, I got takeout one or two times. But with seafood, you have to eat freshly prepared.
What’s your favorite memory in a Red Lobster?
I would have to say that when I worked, during the endless shrimp. We would have a signup sheet at work. Back here in the party room, we would have no more than 14 employees come in at that time for the endless shrimp parties.
So we would do that maybe two or three times during endless shrimp. And there would always be different groups of people dining in with me, knowing that we had the room, and we'd always get the best service. And it was always a good time.
So you’ve been VIP Status for decades?
Oh, especially at this one.
What keeps you coming back?
I would venture to say, the fresh fish that helps with my arthritis. So, overall health. Plus, being a regular, everybody knows you. So, I come in and socialize a little bit. They used to make me my own pot of coffee before I switched [to water for health reasons] four or five years ago.
Do you watch calories when you order?
No, but I traditionally try to go with a lot less fried foods. And little to no beef, since I’m a seafood lover.
How often do you go somewhere else?
If it’s my choice, it’s always Red Lobster. The only time I would go elsewhere is if family or friends said they were going to be in a certain area. Like if they’re in Hilliard, we’ll go to Old Bag of Nails. But since my account is Red Lobster Lover Joe, I only tweet images from Red Lobster.
What would you say to somebody that’s skeptical of Red Lobster?
I would tell them to ask their server, what items haven’t been frozen? And then order something with those ingredients.
What’s your guiding light when ordering at Red Lobster?
Over the past five years, I’ve been trying to cut down on baked potatoes and french fries. I try to go with the rice, the steamed broccoli, and the roasted Brussels sprouts.
Can’t go wrong with Brussels sprouts.
Especially with the soy ginger sauce. Oh my.
Any parting life advice for my readers?
Try not to burn bridges. And if you always tell the truth, it’s not hard to repeat when somebody asks you again.
[You can also follow Red Lobster Lover Joe on Instagram.]
About that burger order…
On Friday, I was bragging to a high-ranking member about the Patriots Caucus how I’m so pro-worker that I always say I’m ready to order when asked regardless if I’m ready to order. I’ll pick a meal in the .03 seconds that it takes to glance at the menu.
That’s what happened to me at Red Lobster. I’m not a seafood freak; I only partake when I can see the sea. I’m also not big on pasta for lunch.
I saw the burger and pounced. It’s on the menu to be ordered. And a lot of times, that’s where you find the biggest surprises. Burgers are easy to make good. They’re easy to bullshit. You can tell a lot about an establishment by how they approach their burger.
I mentioned to Joe that rude online trolls were dragging me to Hell for ordering a burger at Red Lobster. Oh, father, had I sinned?
“You did good,” Joe said. “It will pass. You always have a few negative comments. I just ignore them.”
THOSE WMDs. It’s a problem that tigers in captivity outnumber tigers in the wild… Seriously, you should clear your iPhone cache… We’re all capable of going goblin mode… Meal prep sucks to the fun out of food… “I would only rob banks for my family.”