Illustration: Allison Corr

Endless Shrimp at Red Lobster should be considered a national holiday. If you’ve never been to this glorious celebration of crustacean gluttony, you better run over to one right now. It’s $15.99 for all you can eat. No strings attached. One or 100. It’ll be over on November 18, so you don’t have too much time left. Live your life to the fullest.

This year, diners have six forms of shrimp to choose from as they pursue infinity: classic garlic shrimp scampi, parmesan-crusted shrimp scampi, Crunchy Fiesta Shrimp, shrimp linguini Alfredo, grilled sesame-ginger skewer, and the classic hand-breaded shrimp. Sometimes, Red Lobster will let you order from a secret menu—just ask your server about it. You’ll get access to extras not listed, such as popcorn shrimp.

All my parents ever wanted was for ol’ Dennis to make something of himself. Ma, Pa: I have become an Endless Shrimp Master.

My secrets are now your secrets.


Clothing

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Whenever I go to Red Lobster, most of my fellow diners are there to celebrate a special occasion, a date, or a birthday, and they’re dressed up. Do not dress up. This is an athletic endeavor. Elastic waistbands are your best friend. Plus when you get back home, the aromas of garlic, butter, and crustacean will waft from your clothing like steam at a hot spring. Under Armour offers shirts that wick sweat and dry quickly.

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Preparation

It is tempting to fast the whole day in anticipation of tackling a vulgar amount of shrimp. I’ve noticed, though, that when I do this I hit my food wall quicker. Instead, keep your other meals light during the day, but otherwise eat as normal. It’s the gastrointestinal version of stretching before the big race.

Consider visiting on a day of the week when it’ll be less busy, like a Monday or Tuesday. You don’t want a server who’s slammed and can’t quickly dispatch your 17th order of shrimp.

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Notes on alcohol

I’m on the fence about consuming alcohol during Endless Shrimp, for multiple reasons. If you order a drink before your food, you’ll be drinking on an empty stomach and the alcohol will hit you that much harder. The other consideration is that cocktails, beer, and wine all take up a bunch of caloric space and you need that space to fill with pounds of shrimp.

I’ve been told that being wasted opens up a whole new cavity inside the stomach, making it possible of holding much more food (I believe this is physiologically accurate). That being said, does throwing up seven pounds of shrimp and a Big Gulp of Malibu Hurricanes in the parking lot of a Red Lobster sound good to you?

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If not, my advice is save your stomach and drink at the end, in celebration.

Photo: grandriver (Getty Images)

The biscuits

Hooo boy. Those Cheddar Bay Biscuits are a landmine. I know you’re starving. Nibbling is okay. But don’t eat more than one. They’re basically butter and cheese bound with a little bit of flour. I am unequivocally not endorsing you bring a one-gallon Ziploc freezer bag to squirrel away biscuits, but that is exactly what I’m suggesting. 

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Salad is your secret weapon

Keep your salad or coleslaw nearby during your long day’s journey into shrimp night, just so you can have something light throughout. I realize coleslaw has mayo in it, which seems heavy, but it’s also crisp and tangy and helps your mouth refreshed for the next wave. Think of it like the pickled ginger you get with sushi.

Sides

Sides are a blessing in disguise. Order what you like, but only take bites of them when you’ve got shrimp fatigue. I like the starch of a baked potato, but if you want rice pilaf or broccoli, live freely.

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The setup

When the server takes your initial order, you’ll be given a choice of soup or salad (always pick salad; soup takes up too much room), a side, and two initial choices of shrimp. Once you’ve finished your first two plates of shrimp, you can keep ordering more—but only one type at a time.

The challenge is the wait time between orders (since you can only get one at a time), in which case, you might hit the food wall. Oftentimes you can sweet talk your server into putting a couple orders in at once if it isn’t a busy night.

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Photo: margouillatphotos (Getty Images)

The traps

If you’re going for the scampi, do that at the outset, but don’t go overboard. Yes, shrimp floating in garlic butter is friggin’ amazing, but once your body realizes it’s being filled up with butter, it will revolt, and not in a Paul Revere, good-for-the-republic kind of way.

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I also highly recommend trying the Crunchy Fiesta Shrimp within your first few rounds. These are fried shrimp crusted in tortilla breading and topped with cheese sauce and pico de gallo (it feels like a free trip to Mexico!). In theory they sound a little iffy—but they’re awesome. Just heavy.

I am assuming you’re also all smart enough to realize the shrimp linguine Alfredo is a bad idea, right? I’ve had it. It is indulgent, but it’s mostly pasta. Pasta in your face hole means less room for shrimp in your stomach hole. Don’t be fooled.

As I mentioned before, some Red Lobster locations will also let you order popcorn shrimp. It’s tempting, but resist. The breading-to-crustacean ratio is entirely too high for Endless Shrimp consumption, and a couple rounds of those will accelerate you towards the dreaded food wall.

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The long-game items

If you’re playing the Endless Shrimp long game (like me), then I recommend you stick with the sesame-ginger skewers because they’re light, that plus the classic breaded shrimp. The concept of the breaded shrimp might seem counter-intuitive since they’re deep-fried, but the key is the bright horseradish cocktail sauce. It cuts through the fry batter and keep you refreshed as you go along.

But if you’re a goddamn beast of a human being, and you’re the kind of person who knocks back shots of Papa John’s garlic butter sauce, by all means, hit up dat scampi like there’s no tomorrow. If you’ve got a favorite, stick to it—no shame in ordering the same exact thing 38 times in a row. (Note: Many people will tell you this entire endeavor is, in fact, shameful.)

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The plate stack

When my server comes to retrieve my empty plates, I politely decline. I prefer they remain at my table, stacked ever higher as the night progresses, as evidence of my conquest. I then lean close into the stack and slowly stroke the plates, purring gently.

When to call it quits

As a veteran of Endless Shrimp, I speak with authority. Some nights, you’re in the zone, pounding that shit down like Cookie Monster nom-noms a whole tray of cookies. But other times, the planets aren’t in alignment and you can’t handle more than four plates. Do not be down on yourself if you didn’t feel like you robbed Red Lobster of shrimp. You are still a good human. We’re all here to make ourselves feel disgusting in one way or another.

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But eventually, the sweats do kick in, which is a sign your shrimp massacre is reaching its conclusion. You will probably only have one order left in you, and you may want to prove to yourself that you can squeeze it in. Do know that there is a lag between stomach digesting and signals sent to your brain, so you will get increasingly full even if no shrimp is being rammed down your maw at the moment. Which means while you wait for that 56th and final plate of shrimp to arrive, you may actually slam face-first into that wall.

It’s okay to not put in that last order. You’ve already won. Throwing up $15.99 worth of shrimp isn’t worth the bragging rights.

The takeaway

Endless Shrimp isn’t entirely about bounty, luxury, and sin. It’s about discovering yourself as a person: which challenges you can handle, and how your earlier ordering decisions defines the end point in your journey. I believe in you. We all believe in you. Go, my lamb, and stuff your face with shrimp.

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