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‘Sinking ship vibes’: Dining at California’s worst-rated Red Lobster

The image shows a Red Lobster restaurant with an illustrated giant lobster perched on its roof and star ratings displayed above, indicating a 3-star average from 798 reviews.
Despite its worst-in-the-state status, the San Bruno location was spared when Red Lobster corporate announced a slew of closures. | Source: AI illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard

The Red Lobster on El Camino Real in San Bruno owns a dubious distinction: Out of the seafood chain’s 19 California locations, it has the worst ratings on Yelp. 

Diners have awarded it an average of 2.8 stars out of 5, tying it with sister restaurants in Vallejo and Modesto, but it has hundreds more negative comments than either of them. 

Despite its worst-in-the-state status, the San Bruno location was spared when Red Lobster corporate, fresh off a Monday bankruptcy filing, announced a slate of temporary closures across the country.

Still, given the possibility that more cuts could be in store, The Standard set out, while we still had the chance, to determine for ourselves whether the San Bruno branch deserves its bad reputation, or is an unfair victim of social media bullying. 

We weren’t alone. On Wednesday night, the restaurant was buzzing with diners determined to enjoy at least one more modestly priced seafood extravaganza ahead of the reaper’s arrival.

It was Ben Rubin’s first meal at a Red Lobster; he and his friends decided to eat there after hearing the bankruptcy news. Several other customers offered similar reasons for coming.

“You sort of got sinking ship vibes,” Rubin said of the restaurant’s employees. “They seem tired. Overwhelmed.”

Truly, staff morale seemed low, and that was before a reporter went around the dining room asking about that bottom-of-the-barrel Yelp ranking.

“Does it surprise me?” said a waitress, who didn’t want to be named because staff aren’t allowed to talk to the press. “Not really. But a little.”

“I kind of had a feeling we might be dead last,” another staffer said.

A server eager to know how customers view the establishment might read reviews like:

  • “My waiter was walking slow motion. He needed coffee to wake up. Sad”
  • “I walked out and threw up all over the parking lot.”
  • “A very sad hungry custumer (sic).”
  • “Lame ass cook that takes FOREVER. Bomb biscuits though.”
Red Lobster's "Create Your Own Ultimate Feast"
Red Lobster's $47.99 “Create Your Own Ultimate Feast” was salty to the point of migraine. | Source: Tomoki Chien/The Standard

One staffer said that management had advised them not to worry about Yelp reviews. 

“We have a lot of good regulars,” a waitress said. “But a lot of people come and they’re just complainers.”

Luckily, The Standard did not leave with an upset stomach after a visit to the restaurant. Nor did we get to try the famous “Endless Shrimp” deal, as that’s only available on Mondays. Still, a restaurant manager laid down the law: You cannot share shrimp with another diner and you can’t take it home. 

When pressed for what the consequences were for breaking the rules—shrimp jail? Walking the plank?—the manager simply shrugged.

The $47.99 “Create Your Own Ultimate Feast”—lobster tail, sirloin steak and shrimp—was salty to the point of migraine. The rice was dry. Shrimp hard. And broccoli mushy.

The biscuits that weren't quite "bomb"
The biscuits were decent. | Source: Tomoki Chien/The Standard

The allegedly “endless” basket of biscuits, which were actually decent but not quite “bomb,” sat empty for 20 minutes of the 90 spent at the table. 

The best part of the meal? That would be the 50 minutes spent waiting for it to arrive.

‘A haunted restaurant’

Mediocre meal aside, the waitress said that despite reassurances from management, “a lot of people are pretty nervous” about the bankruptcy. Other Red Lobster locations have been closed with no notice—staffers showed up that morning only to be turned away. In the Bay Area, the Fremont and Rohnert Park locations have been temporarily closed.

A Red Lobster spokesperson did not respond to questions about the closures and the San Bruno location’s low ratings. 

The image shows a close-up of a seafood dish featuring a lobster tail and grilled shrimp on a bed of rice, garnished with herbs, accompanied by a small dish of sauce.
The Maine lobster tail was greasy but serviceable. | Source: Tomoki Chien/The Standard

Robert Mitchell, who had eaten at the San Bruno location before, said the portions were smaller and the service was slower than in the past. 

“It’s so quiet—they don’t have music,” Mitchell said. “It’s like a haunted restaurant.”

But, to the restaurant’s credit, Mitchell said his waitress brought him extra potatoes at no extra cost. 

“I respect that,” he said.

Mitchell also relished his hometown Red Lobster’s last-place achievement.

“I dig that we’re the worst around,” Mitchell said. “That’s dope.”

Tomoki Chien can be reached at