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How Red Lobster’s Savvy Corporate Headquarters Boosts the Brand

Great design helped a notable brand focus on the future and celebrate their legacy.

How Red Lobster's Savvy Corporate Headquarters Boosts the Brand

by Debra Lemons, AIA, IIDA, Director of Interior Design

Look around your office. What does it say about your company brand? Really think about it! Corporate image plays an important role in solidifying brand advocacy and awareness, and the interior design of the corporate workplace is a major part of the communication of that image to the outside world and its employees.

Early this year, Red Lobster emerged from parent company, Darden, to become a wholly independent company. Their corporate headquarters and culinary development center relocated to 3-1/2 floors of a showcase office building in downtown Orlando. With strong pride in their new independence and legacy, the executive team desired a corporate image that celebrated that legacy and represented a state-of-the-art, global player with a clear focus on the future. During a few short months HBA had the privilege of working with their team to translate their corporate motto, “Great people - great seafood - great results,” into physical space.

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Our challenge was to connect the culture of a well-known brand with a multi-generational workforce and global presence. Since its inception, brand hallmarks of Red Lobster have included historic imagery of Bar Harbor, Maine with rustic elements such as clapboard siding, heavy timbers, and metal roofs. Thematic décor of nautical flags, lanterns, oars and lobsters pepper these iconic restaurants with color and nostalgia. These elements remain essential to the dining experience today, but are evolving into a more minimal, refined execution to reflect today’s simplified sensibility. It was critical to the brand’s executive and design teams that these hallmarks were incorporated into the corporate environment, but translated in a modern, state of the art environment that was also an inspiring place to work.

This was achieved through space-planning and flow, form, color, materials, and FUN. The culinary development center is located on the ground floor and features a state-of-the-art kitchen, tasting room, training and conference center, and staff areas. Above, the three floors occupied by Red Lobster are organized by function and department, which revealed the opportunity to differentiate the identities of each floor in tandem with the “great people – great seafood – great results” motto. Dedicated to work stations and offices, the 8th floor represents “Great People” and is anchored by a 1600-sf employee hub for dining, collaboration, and company-wide meetings. Super- graphic fins featuring a colorful image of Bar Harbor loosely demarcate the circulation and kitchen space from dining areas. Furniture and media are purposefully configured to provide choice and optimize flexibility for collaboration and social interaction.

“Great Seafood” is highlighted on the 11th floor where visitors enter at the main reception area and are immediately immersed into the history and future of the brand. Telling the story of Red Lobster’s innovation in the seafood industry from boat to table became a touchstone. The reception desk, with its abstracted boat-like form and sleek stainless and teak plank detailing, introduces one to the iconic environment, while stacked stone, digital technology, and colorful super-graphic murals of the company’s timeline and founders surround the waiting and large conference areas.

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The executive teams reside on the 12th floor where “Great Results” are strategized and showcased. The rich palette, forms, and technology are repeated from the 11th floor and the main public area outside of conference spaces features a dramatic display of the company’s Lighthouse Awards celebrating high performers throughout the system.

Opportunities to reinforce the modern-nautical aesthetic were realized through color, texture, and form. The rubble stone characteristic of the shores of Bar Harbor was interpreted into a more refined stacked stone. Feature millwork, accent walls, and boat-shaped ceiling panels are clad in oiled teak planks. The neutral palette of natural textures and bright white walls, ceilings and quartz counters provides a rich canvas for the saturated nautical colors, inspired by buoys and nautical flags, purposefully located at transition nodes or as accent walls of prominent spaces.

It was Red Lobsters’s desire to express the strong core value of employee fun and engagement with each other and their work. HuntonBrady Architects and Red Lobster collaborated with a local advertising agency to develop super-graphic mural wallcoverings for the long walls on the north and south sides of the core. Purposely colored on each floor for way-finding and identity, these murals incorporate company trivia and black and white photos of employees and suppliers as well as stylized graphics of lobsters reminiscent of the current menu covers. This strategy provided a cost-effective way of incorporating color and interest to the backdrop of the large open work areas while telling the Red Lobster story at a larger-than-life scale.

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Additional points of discovery were imbedded in the office so employees could “be in the know” and share in the brand’s story with their colleagues. For example, the symbol of a nautical flag is dramatically carved and painted into the architecture of the ceiling at each of the three elevator lobbies entering each floor. In maritime culture, these flags are the international means of communication, thus they were chosen to communicate a specific message about each floor upon entering. The flag that means “I wish to communicate with you” is represented on the 8th floor, speaking to a modern, connected workforce. On the 11th floor “Coming alongside to replenish” celebrates the company’s commitment to the fishing industry and delivering quality nutrition to our table. The “Affirmative” flag on 12 reflects the forward trajectory of the company’s vision as well as affirmation of its employees.

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Moments like this make a relevant, unique space that reinforces and elevates Red Lobster’s brand and encourage employee engagement. Clear vision and communication of that vision from the company’s leadership, creative thinking with brand immersion, and focused collaboration led to great design realized.

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About Debra Lemons, AIA, IIDA

With over 20 years of experience in both architecture and interior design, Debra brings her leadership, management and design talent to HuntonBrady Architects. As Director of Interior Design, Debra is responsible for the authorship of the interior design work produced by the firm for every market group including commercial, healthcare and education.

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