Red Lobster sued over injuries from caustic beer

A customer claims lye used to clean tap lines at a Dallas location scorched his mouth, throat and stomach.

By Jason Notte May 16, 2013 2:24PM
Customers walk into a Red Lobster restaurant in Hialeah, Fla. on Sept. 6, 2012 (© Alan Diaz/AP Photo)Short of a global lobster die-off, just about the last thing Red Lobster and parent company Darden Restaurants (DRI) needs right now is news of a customer lawsuit alleging a serious health and safety problem.

Like finding lye in its beer lines.

Though it's an isolated incident, a man from Panama City, Fla., claims he was on the receiving end of Red Lobster's worst nightmare when he was scorched with potassium hydroxide -- lye -- from a Budweiser he drank during a business lunch in Dallas in May 2011. According to The Dallas Observer, Justin Grogg took a sip of his beer and immediately felt his throat, esophagus and stomach starting to burn.

According to Grogg's lawsuit, he got the attention of the restaurant's manager, who told him to "drink water and go to the hospital." The complaint alleges the manager knew that the beer tap system had been cleaned that morning with potassium hydroxide, which is caustic and can cause severe bodily harm if swallowed.

Doctors treated Grogg quickly, but he still experienced "severe pain" and was told he could develop "esophageal strictures, esophageal reflux changes, and/or pharyngeal infection in the future as a result of the ingestion of the potassium hydroxide."

Grogg is seeking between $50,000 and $100,000 from Red Lobster and the company that cleaned the Dallas location's beer tap system to cover medical expenses and compensate for his physical pain.

For Red Lobster and Darden, it's just the latest setback in an already tough 2013. Just before last year's presidential election, Darden faced criticism for testing the use of more part-time employees to avoid paying the cost of the national health insurance mandate known commonly as Obamacare. The company backpedaled after customer satisfaction declined at restaurants where the tests took place.

For two consecutive quarters, Darden has failed to meet sales expectations as it admitted misjudging its specials by offering 2-for-$25 meal deals when competitors such as  DineEquity's (DINE) Applebee's, Brinker Restaurants' (EAT) Chili's and Bloomin' Brands' (BLMN) Outback Steakhouse offered 2-for-$20 meal deals or $10 entrees.

Darden also increased the number of chicken and beef items offered at Red Lobster from 8% of the menu to nearly a quarter, added low-calorie options to Olive Garden's menu and changed that chain's slogan from "When You're Here, You're Family" to the more fast-paced "Go Olive Garden." That move didn't work, and in January, Darden replaced Olive Garden's president in an effort to boost results. Then Darden announced plans in February to completely overhaul the chain and tear out its Tuscan decor.

Darden has since introduced value meals and toyed with no-waiter, no-tip counter service in an effort to boost sales.

Note: This story was updated May 17 to correct the company name to Darden Restaurants and that this incident happened in 2011.

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May 16, 2013 3:10PM
The Budweiser alone could have made him throw up.
May 16, 2013 4:56PM
Don't like Red Lobster the food is very unhealthy but why in the world would I go there to eat beef or chicken?
May 16, 2013 3:48PM
Illegal and immoral wars?  Eh.  IRS and AP scandals?  So what?  Bank fraud and mega-corporations defying the law?  No big deal.  Conservatives calling women sluts?  Happens all the time with those idiots (the conservatives, not the women).

Tainted beer?  OK!  NOW, I'M PISSED!!!

May 17, 2013 9:12AM
It's amazing how these well paid leaders react like offering no tip counter service.  What counter are they talking about at Olive Garden?  Olive Garden needs to do away with it's all you can eat soup and salad.  I've been told by waiters at O.G. that some tables order salad three and four times.  That's people typing up tables which lengthens waiting time during busy hours and eating up company profits.  You don't need people trying to beat the system and O.G. should stop catering to that small percentage.  Secondly, the whole menu needs reinvention and if you are going to honor lunch portions the whole day like O.G. does then it should be handled by having two different portion options and prices shown on menu and not leaked out to just a few.  Be up front or do away for portion options all together.  And in lieu of two meals for a specified amount incorporate the buy one get the second meal of equal or lesser price for half price.  Be different.
May 17, 2013 9:09AM
Why go to a place like Red Lobster in Panama City, FL when you can go to some little shack on the coast and get a FRESH steamed lobster or FRESH steamed clams, etc?!?! Red Lobster is a dump, glad they all closed down in Massachusetts!
May 17, 2013 3:15PM
May 17, 2013 3:07PM
I took my wife to Red Lobster for her birthday. It was great. It took 60 miles to get their. It was great. 
May 17, 2013 1:38PM
Suing because he couldn't get the crappy fake seafood taste out of his mouth
May 17, 2013 2:49PM
I used to work at Red Lobster, poor conditions, dirty kitchen and mediocre food.  Olive Garden is not too bad, ripping out the Tuscan decor is a mistake, that's what gives it a little ambiance....uggg whatever
May 17, 2013 2:04PM
From my experience, Red Lobster never learned how to properly prepare the classic Fish & Chips dish.  What I received was an overcooked, dry, flat piece of fish  that was quite unappetizing.  Either R.L. should learn how to make it or else remove the dish from the menu.
May 16, 2013 2:48PM
Scorched by lye ............ sounds like Obummer ..... scorched by lies
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