What happened

Shares of Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE:DRI) were looking tasty to investors on Tuesday as the Olive Garden-parent surged after a strong third-quarter earnings report and on news that it would acquire casual-dining chain Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen.

As of 11:51 a.m. EDT, the stock was up 8.3%.

A woman standing behind the counter at Olive Garden.

Image source: Olive Garden.

So what

Darden, which also owns Capital Grille and Longhorn Steakhouse, among other chains, said comparable sales were up companywide by 0.9% and increased 1.4% at Olive Garden, a respectable result at a time when many restaurant chains have been seeing sales at established stores fall.

Overall revenue ticked up 1.7% to $1.88 billion, beating estimates of $1.86 billion. On the bottom line, adjusted earnings per share increased 9.1% to $1.32, ahead of the consensus at $1.27.

The market also seem pleased with the company's move to acquire Cheddar's in an all-cash acquisition for $780 million. The deal comes two years after Darden sold Red Lobster for $2.1 billion. With Cheddar's, the restaurant parent gains 165 locations under its umbrella, growing its base by about 10% and making Cheddar's the company's third-largest chain. Management said it expected the deal to be accretive to next year's EPS by $0.12.

Now what

Darden also lifted its full-year EPS forecast to $3.95-$4, up from a previous range of $3.87-$3.97, and said it expected full-year comparable sales growth of 1.5%.

Shares of the casual dining company have been on a roll recently as the stock has increased 25% over the past year. For a slow growth company, the P/E valuation may be getting stretched at more than 20 based on this year's earnings, but the Cheddar's acquisition suggests management is interested in expansion once again.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.