Despite the last-minute impact of Hurricane Charley, Darden Restaurants
Once again, Olive Garden did most of the heavy lifting, with sales that rose 6% to $580.5 million. The addition of 18 new units helped revenues, as did a 2.8% improvement in same-store sales. Comps at Olive Garden have now registered 40 consecutive quarters of growth. Though labor costs continue to climb, expenses elsewhere were trimmed, leading to record quarterly income for the Italian-themed chain.
Unfortunately, strength at Olive Garden was again offset by weakness at Red Lobster. After dropping 3.5% last year, same-store sales at the seafood chain began the new fiscal year with a 7.6% decline, capped by a 16% free fall in August. Not only did traffic suffer a double-digit drop, but also those who did visit rang up smaller tickets, as average check prices fell by 1% to 2%.
Red Lobster's revenues dropped 6.2% to $594.8 million, but last summer's endless crab promotion made for difficult year-over-year sales comparisons. As you may recall, management drastically miscalculated the customers' appetite for crab legs and was forced to watch helplessly as all those second and third helpings took a bite (pun intended) out of the bottom line.
The fiasco led to the ouster of Red Lobster President Edna Morris, and things have been downhill ever since. Darden isn't the only company to run into problems with all-you-can-eat promotions; Applebee's
For the past year, Darden has been driving with one foot on the gas and the other on the brake, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel for Red Lobster. Earlier this month, diners singled out the chain as the best seafood restaurant for the 16th straight year, indicating that guest satisfaction remains high. Profit margins per guest have also been on the rise.
When Red Lobster finally does turn the corner, then Darden -- which trades at a lower multiple than rivals such as Applebee's, Brinker
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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter counts Red Lobster among his favorite restaurants, but he owns none of the companies mentioned.