Darden is the biggest casual dining restaurant group in North America, and indeed in the world, with 1,785 outlets in the US under eight brands, as well as a small number of outlets in Canada and a few international markets, the latter mostly franchised. The biggest and best-known brands are Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden, with 866 outlets in the US (including 6 in Canada) and system sales of $4.3bn in ye 2019, and LongHorn Steakhouse, with 514 sites and $1.8bn. Olive Garden is the 15th biggest restaurant chain in the US by sales, and became the leader in the casual dining segment for the first time in 2018, overtaking Applebee's. Longhorn Steakhouse ranks 38th overall. The remaining six chains are significantly smaller by both outlets and revenues. Red Lobster, the original flagship of the group, was sold to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital in 2014 following several years of slow decline. That chain was first launched by entrepreneur Bill Darden in Florida in 1968. The fledgling business was acquired two later by General Mills, and expanded rapidly. The company began to experiment with alternative formats in the early 1980s. Some worked; others didn't and were shuttered. Italian chain Olive Garden, launched in 1982, has proved to be the group's most successful concept. It overtook Red Lobster by outlets in 2009 and now accounts for more than half of group sales. Other surviving brands include Caribbean-themed Bahama Breeze and grill/wine bar Seasons 52. General Mills spun off Darden Restaurants as an independent company in 1995. In 2007, the group acquired LongHorn Steakhouses and Capital Grille. Other acquired businesses include the somewhat smaller Eddie V's and Yard House. In 2017, the group acquired Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, now its third biggest chain by outlets. Gene Lee succeeded Clarence Otis as CEO of Darden in 2014, following the sale of Red Lobster. Group revenues for ye May 2019 were $8.5bn, with net income of $713m.
Capsule checked 21st June 2019
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Recent stories from Adbrands Update:
Adbrands Weekly Update 30th Mar 2017: Darden Restaurants, owners of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other leading US casual dining brands, agreed to acquire Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen for $780m. The value-priced American cuisine chain has around 165 outlets nationwide. According to trade bible NRN, systemwide sales were around $714m last year, putting it among the country's Top 20 casual dining chains. It would become the #3 brand by sales in Darden's portfolio.
Adbrands Weekly Update 28th May 2015: Darden Restaurants split its portfolio, shifting responsibility for LongHorn Steakhouse to Carat and 360i. Lead chain Olive Garden stays at Starcom MediaVest.
Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd Apr 2015: US foodservice trade title NRN published its annual Consumer Picks report, listing the country's most popular restaurant chains according to 44,000 customer surveys. Among the winners were Ruth's Chris Steak House, the #1 overall by votes, as well as in the fine dining category; The Melting Pot, top choice in the casual dining category; and In-N-Out Burger which headed the limited service category. Some of the bigger chains also did well, including Chick-Fil-A, just inside the overall Top 20; and Olive Garden, still among the Top 25. Bloomin Brands' Carrabba's Italian Grill and Bonefish Grill were both among the top 5 in casual dining, and ice cream cafes Bruster's, Ben & Jerry's and Haagen-Dazs rounded out the Top Four in limited service. So what of sector giants like McDonald's, Burger King and KFC? Once again, McDonald's and Burger King languished at the bottom of the table; out of 172 restaurants only Chuck E Cheese got a lower score. Taco Bell, KFC and Dunkin' Donuts were all also outside the Top 100.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd May 2014: Darden Restaurants finalised a deal to offload its leading, but fading, brand Red Lobster to private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, which also owns California Pizza Kitchen. The price tag was $2.1bn. The deal follows several months of pressure on the company from activist shareholders to focus on smaller and more profitable brands. Darden's biggest remaining brand is Olive Garden, supported by a number of smaller niche properties.
Adbrands Weekly Update 31st Dec 2013: US casual dining group Darden Restaurants has put its Red Lobster seafood chain up for sale in an attempt to defuse criticism from activist investors. The group will continue to operate its other brands, including Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. Kim Lopdrup, president of Darden's specialty restaurants division, is expected to succeed Clarence Otis as CEO of Darden following the divestment.
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