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Olive Garden owner Darden slims down menus for coronavirus era
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Darden Restaurants Inc. is focusing on simplifying its menus, enhancing carryout options and revamping dining rooms as it emerges from coronavirus-inspired lockdowns.
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The operator of Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other brands said 91% of dining rooms in its restaurants were open as of Monday with at least limited capacity. Demand has picked up. Sales volume at locations open at least 16 months fell about 39% for the week ended June 7, Darden said, but that improved to a drop of roughly 30% for the week ended Sunday.
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Governments required restaurants to close dining areas to help stop the spread of the coronavirus this spring, hitting operators of businesses built around in-store dining especially hard and forcing them to refocus on pick-up and delivery.
Darden said it hasn't seen any immediate shift in sales in states where coronavirus cases are now shooting upward, but is monitoring the situation closely and will pivot back to to-go sales if it needs to.
"Obviously we're concerned, we're focused on it," Chief Executive Gene Lee said.
The company is wrestling with how to incorporate social distancing in its restaurants, particularly at Olive Garden, which has fewer booths than the Longhorn Steakhouse chain. Darden is installing temporary barriers in 100 of its Olive Garden locations in coming weeks to see if they can help maintain 6-foot distances between parties. Going forward, the company is rethinking its restaurant designs as social-distancing becomes the norm.