Orlando-based Darden restaurant group has an optimistic outlook for the rest of the year despite the closure of its restaurants due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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 closed all dining rooms at the end of March when the coronavirus was taking off in the U.S. The closures most directly affected the 180,000 employees at the company.
Restaurants in Florida have since been able to reopen in a limited capacity. As of June 22, 91% of Darden’s dining rooms were open with at least a limited capacity, according to the company.
During the first quarter of 2020, Darden reported a 43% drop in sales. In a 2021 first-quarter outlook, the company predicts it will make approximately 70% of last year’s sales.
Throughout next year, Darden expects to open 35-40 net new restaurants.
In the quarterly earnings report, Thursday Darden CEO Gene Lee explained how the restaurant giant navigated the coronavirus closures that shuttered businesses and caused millions to be furloughed.
“The strategy we put in place five years ago helped us successfully navigate one of the most challenging periods in our Company’s history. When our dining rooms closed, our operators did an amazing job of reimagining the guest experience by staying true to our back-to-basics operating philosophy,” Lee said in a statement.
“We benefited greatly from our competitive advantages that form the foundation of our strategy, especially our scale and our culture. Our scale allowed us to quickly react to constant change, while our team members displayed tremendous innovation, flexibility and passion as they continued to serve our guests. I’m incredibly proud of our teams and that our culture grew stronger during this time.”