Struggling are Olive Garden and Red Lobster, which are largely geared toward middle-class customers, who have been squeezed during the recession and slow recovery. Families with young children cut back on restaurant spending during the downturn, and they haven’t come back, according to a recent survey by restaurant research firm NPD Group.
Same-store sales, a measure of performance at restaurants open a year or more, dropped 3.5 percent at Olive Garden and 5.6 percent at Red Lobster over the quarter. At Long Horn Steak House, Darden’s middle-of-the-road steak chain, same-store sales rose 2.4 percent, but traffic — the measure of how many people are actually coming through the door — dropped over the quarter.
On the other hand, at Darden’s Capital Grille, where most dinner entrees fetch more than $40 each, same-store sales increased 4 percent over the quarter. That makes sense, too: Over the past few years, the kinds of people who can afford a fancy dinner have seen their incomes grow, even as everybody else’s incomes have stayed flat.