Darden Restaurants reduces corporate staff as sales remain down during pandemic

Tribune Content Agency

Darden Restaurants revealed Thursday it has cut 11% of its corporate workforce at its Orlando headquarters and in other leadership positions as the owner of Olive Garden continues to endure slower sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

The company, which also owns LongHorn Steakhouse and other chains, said Thursday that same-restaurant sales were down 29% for the quarter ending Aug. 30 compared with the same quarter last year, but reported net earnings of $37 million from continuing operations.

At the same time, Darden has brought back thousands of its furloughed hourly employees in the past few months.

Darden shared details on the early retirement incentive program and corporate restructuring that led to the smaller corporate workforce on an earnings call.

“This restructuring resulted in a net 11% reduction in our workforce in the restaurant support center and field operations leadership positions,” CFO Rick Cardenas said, adding the move is expected to save the company between $25 million and $30 million annually.

The restructuring involved about 225 Orlando Restaurant Support Center employees and field management team members, said Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers.

Darden had about $48 million of expenses related to the program. Cash expenses of about $38 million involved severance and benefits, Jeffers said, and $10 million involved non-cash expenses including the acceleration of stock awards and post-retirement benefits.

In April, Darden furloughed 20% of about 1,000 people who worked at the Restaurant Support Center. Those furloughs ended in early August, Jeffers said.

The company had brought back 60,000 of about 150,000 furloughed restaurant workers in June. Jeffers said 25,000 more hourly employees have been brought back since that update.

San Diego-based restaurant analyst John Gordon said he was not surprised by the corporate cuts.

“The casual dining space, the restaurant patronage is going to be soft, it’s going to be soft for several years,” Gordon said. “It is prudent for any business to look at its general and administrative support personnel.”

Darden, which has $655 million in cash, repaid a $270 million term loan in August. Its board also reinstated its quarterly dividend, which will be 30 cents per share.

The company’s stock price was up more than 8% to $97.31 at close Thursday.

Cardenas said strong profitability at Olive Garden, which increased its segment profit margin to 22.1%, was driven by simplified operations that reduce food and direct labor costs as well as reduced spending on marketing.

Darden’s other brands include Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Yard House, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V’s.

“LongHorn Steakhouse, fine dining and the other business segment delivered strong, positive segment profit margins of 15.1%, 11.9% and 12.8%, respectively, despite the significant sales decline experienced in the quarter,” Cardenas said.

The company, which has more than 1,800 restaurants, projects total sales in the next quarter will be at about 82% compared to last year.


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