Darden is the biggest casual dining restaurant group in North America, and indeed in the world, with 1,804 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. Group revenues for the year to May 2019 were $8.5bn, but then were badly dented by the first months of the Covid pandemic in ye 2020. Revenues slumped to $7.8bn and will be lower still in the year to 2021. Net income of $713m in 2019 turned into a $52m loss for 2020. The biggest and best-known brands in the portfolio are Italian restaurant chain Olive Garden, with 866 outlets in the US (including a handful in Canada) and system sales of $4.0bn in ye 2020, and LongHorn Steakhouse, with 522 sites and $1.7bn. In 2017, the group acquired Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, now its third biggest chain with 165 outlets and system sales of $584m, just ahead of Yard House at $528m. Olive Garden is the 16th biggest restaurant chain in the US by sales. It became the leader in the casual dining segment for the first time in 2018, overtaking Applebee's, but then slipped back behind the latter again in 2020. Longhorn Steakhouse ranks 41st 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 alone 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. Gene Lee succeeded Clarence Otis as CEO of Darden in 2014, following the sale of Red Lobster.
Capsule checked 3rd May 2021
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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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