Maybe it's Marilyn Hagerty working her magic: Olive Garden is reversing out of a long slump with more visitors and better sales.
A few weeks after the elderly North Dakota reviewer’s piece on a new Olive Garden restaurant in Grand Forks went viral, the chain’s parent company, Darden Restaurants Inc., said its fiscal third-quarter profit soared more than 8% to $164.1 million, or $1.25 a share, from $151.7 million, or $1.08, in the same period a year earlier.
Sales were improving, the company said, with a 9.3% jump to nearly $2.2 billion from less than $2 billion. Same-store revenue at Darden’s three major restaurant chains -- Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse -- were up 4.1%.
Part of the improvement comes from the unseasonably pleasant weather, executives said, but they also said the effort to spruce up the Italian-style Olive Garden was paying off.
Miserable sales at the eatery had dragged down Orlando, Fla.-based Darden’s earnings 28% in the second quarter.
The chain’s $957 million in sales over the quarter was a 5.5% improvement on the same period a year earlier, as higher food costs were offset by cheaper labor and increasing traffic. Sales in February alone were 4.3% better than in January.