Darden’s big growth plans for LongHorn

Darden’s big growth plans for LongHorn

Company plans to double size of steakhouse chain over next 10 years

Darden Restaurants Inc. outlined growth expectations for its brands Tuesday, including plans to roughly double the size of LongHorn Steakhouse over the next 10 years.

Drew Madsen, president and chief operating officer of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden, discussed the company’s plans during a presentation at Barclay’s Retail & Restaurants Conference in New York City.

Madsen said LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden and Seasons 52 would help drive the company’s growth in the coming years. For example, Darden looks to expand LongHorn Steakhouse to 600 to 800 units over the next decade, which would make it around the same size as Olive Garden, he said.

At the end of its most recent third quarter, Darden operated 1,868 restaurants, including 347 LongHorn Steakhouses and 743 Olive Gardens. Darden also owns the Red Lobster, The Capital Grille and Seasons 52 brands.

Madsen said Darden has been able to grow because of its ability to attract talented managers and employees, respond to evolving consumer expectations, and react to changes in food and labor expenses and regulations. He also cited the company’s capacity to advertise.

“We’re excited. Darden is exceedingly well-positioned to win,” he said.

Olive Garden performed to a “consistently high level” this past year with continued remodeling, said Madsen, who also highlighted new Spanish language advertising on tap for later this year. Darden will continue to grow Olive Garden by “emphasizing culinary distinctiveness,” he added.

At Red Lobster, commercials will stress price certainty and affordable items, Madsen said.

LongHorn Steakhouse, meanwhile, will accelerate its remodeling of 100 restaurants and introduce cable TV ads while also stressing its ability to grill and season steaks to meet customers’ expectations.

Darden officials are confident Seasons 52 will continue to grow because it’s doing well across diverse geographic markets, which range from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Florida and Georgia to Texas and California. At the end of the third quarter, Darden operated 15 Seasons 52 restaurants.

Commodity costs remain challenging, Darden officials said, noting that it was reminiscent of fiscal 2008, when the company faced high labor and energy costs.

Contact Alan Snel at [email protected]