Dividend stocks offer both income and long-term growth prospects. Smart dividend investors focus on the stocks that have the best chances of giving them both, maximizing their returns. Among above-average yielding stocks, Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI), Cypress Semiconductor (NASDAQ:CY), and Novartis (NYSE:NVS) all have dividend yields of more than 3% and good potential for the future.

Getting hungry again

Darden Restaurants has faced tough times lately, with consumers spending less money eating out -- especially in the casual-dining space. Faster options both from fast-casual specialists as well as more traditional fast-food establishments have forced Darden and its peers to compete more effectively, and it took a while for Darden to find the right strategies to produce growth.

Olive Garden restaurant from the outside.

Image source: Darden Restaurants.

Darden's most recent financial report included comparable-restaurant sales growth for six of its seven store concepts, including a strong 4.4% gain in comps for the key Olive Garden chain. The stock has also rewarded its investors with a double-digit dividend increase in each of the past two years, with the most recent 12.5% boost coming earlier in the summer. With a current yield of just over 3% and more potential growth to come, Darden Restaurants is making some dividend investors' mouths water.

Cypress keeps getting smarter

Cypress Semiconductor has been a stalwart among tech stocks with dividends, maintaining a flat $0.11-per-share quarterly dividend for the past several years. That's been adequate to give the stock an impressive 3.1% dividend yield, as the chipmaker has paid its investors quarterly dividends to share in its success as a key component supplier for popular segments of the tech sector.

In particular, Cypress has enjoyed success from several fast-growing areas in technology. The company is working toward having a greater footprint in the automotive arena, as automakers look to add technological advances at an ever-increasing pace. Cypress has also aimed its sights at wireless connectivity for the budding Internet of Things initiative, with the goal of helping customers implement networks to monitor business operations more effectively. The USB-C connector standard has also taken root, and that will give Cypress opportunities for future growth as well. Even without regular dividend increases, Cypress has treated dividend investors well, and the potential for capital gains makes the stock attractive.

Novartis seeks to get healthier

Finally, Novartis has done a good job of treating shareholders right with a dividend that currently yields 3.2%. An annual dividend reflects the drug company's European heritage, as many companies in Europe eschew quarterly payouts, but the amounts of Novartis' dividend have been consistent over the years.

Novartis has faced challenges in past years because of competitive pressures and the ongoing decline in revenue from drugs on which the company has lost patent protection. Yet newer drugs have started to replace some of the lost revenue from its past blockbusters, and Novartis has also identified opportunities for further research that could lead to highly successful treatments if studies go well. There's definite risk with Novartis, in part because trends in the U.S. suggest that pricing pressure on drug makers could eat into profits over the long run. For now, Novartis' future depends on how well it's able to challenge existing drugs with entries of its own. If it finds competitive advantages, then Novartis has plenty of room for its stock price to rise.

Dividend stocks aren't necessarily good just because they have yields of 3% or more. You also have to assess their fundamental prospects. For Novartis, Cypress Semiconductor, and Darden Restaurants, the potential for future gains outweighs the risks involved in their respective business operations, and the dividend payments that you'll get along the way are just icing on the cake.

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.