Darden closes dining rooms at all restaurants in response to coronavirus pandemic

Orlando-based company employs more than 180,000 people

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ORLANDO, Fla. – In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Orlando-based restaurant company Darden is closing dining rooms at all of its restaurants, according to company officials.

The company’s restaurant brands include Olive Garden, The Capital Grille, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze, Longhorn Steakhouse, Yard House and Eddie V’s Prime Seafood.

Darden Restaurants President and CEO Gene Lee made the announcement Friday, saying all dining rooms would be closed to the public at the end of business hours.

“The health and safety of our guests and team members has always been our first priority. And while we have taken extraordinary measures to keep our restaurants safe, after thoughtful conversations with my executive team, government leaders and many of you, I believe the best way we serve today is by focusing completely on providing our guests the comfort of knowing a home-cooked meal is just a call or click away,” Lee wrote in his update.

Lee said the closing of the dining rooms will make it even harder for the company’s more than 180,000 employees to work the hours they typically need to financially support themselves.

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To help curb the financial hit, the company has developed an emergency pay plan that will take effect next week.

Chief Financial Officer said the company will have approximately $1 billion cash on hand to weather the uncertain times and the impact they have on the company’s more than 1,700 restaurants.

“We believe this positions us well to deal with potential near term volatility under the current market conditions," CFO Rick Cardenas said in the news release.

With the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, to avoid gatherings of 10 people, in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus restaurants in Florida were ordered by Gov. Ron DeSantis Tuesday to reduce their capacity by half or move to take-out services only. As a result, some businesses closed.

Before Darden closed its dining rooms, Lee said some restaurant sales had already dropped by nearly 6% and others as much as 20% through March 15.

Lee said in Friday’s announcement that each of Darden’s brands has taken measures to strengthen their ability to offer enhanced to-go service.

The company is also taking extra safety precautions to further protect team members and guests, including providing no-contact and limited-contact curbside pickup, according to the company’s website.

“We are determined to get through this so that someday soon, we can get our team members back to work as we welcome our loyal guests into our restaurants once again,” Lee said.

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