Darden es la compañía de restaurante de servicio completo más grande del mundo
La familia Darden de restaurantes presenta algunas de las marcas más reconocidas y acertadas en el servicio completo de comida: Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze y Seasons 52. Nuestras marcas han sido establecidas durante décadas de aprendizaje de nuestros invitados. Sus inspiraciones culinarias vienen de los pueblos pesqueros de Maine, las mesas de familia de Italia y el Oeste Americano – iconos que reflejan la diversidad rica de aquellos que visitan nuestros restaurantes.

Inclusive, no es ninguna exageración el decir que nuestras marcas más grandes se han convertido en iconos. Desde la apertura de nuestro primer restaurante de Red Lobster en Lakeland en Florida, en 1968, Darden ha crecido para hacerse la compañía de restaurantes de servicio completo más grande del mundo. A través de subsidiarias, poseemos y operamos casi 1,800 restaurantes, empleamos a aproximadamente 180,000 personas y servimos más de 400 millones de comidas por año.
Recent News
Thu, 16 Oct 2014 09:42:00 -0400

Former Director Bill Simon Returning, Providing Valuable Insights and Continuity

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 16, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that its Board of Directors has appointed William S. Simon to the company's Board, effective immediately. As a result of this action, the Board also voted to expand the number of seats on the Board to 13. Simon, most recently the Chief Executive Officer of Walmart U.S. and a former senior executive at Brinker International, previously served on Darden's Board for two years but did not stand for re-election at the Company's Annual Meeting earlier this month.  The Board will continue to evaluate additional qualified candidates and may, or may not, make an additional appointment to the Board in the future.

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Jeffrey C. Smith, Darden's Independent Non-Executive Chairman, commented, "My fellow Board members and I are pleased that Bill has agreed to return as a Director.  As previously indicated, we were willing to consider the right former director with the skill sets, experience and perspectives that would best complement the new Board members. Given Bill's extensive experience leading global consumer retail companies as well as his experience with companies in the restaurant, food and beverage industries, he certainly fits that criteria."

Commenting on the appointment, Simon said, "Darden has a solid foundation in place, and I'm excited to be a part of the new Board as we work to build on the current momentum and unlock the Company's full potential."

Simon, 55, served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Walmart U.S. from June 2010 to August 2014. Previously, he served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Walmart U.S. from March 2007 to June 2010 and Executive Vice President of Professional Services and New Business Development from March 2006 to March 2007. Prior to joining Walmart, Simon held senior executive positions at Brinker International, Inc., Diageo North America, Inc. and Cadbury Schweppes plc. Simon also served as Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services and served 25 years in the U.S. Navy and Naval Reserves.

About Darden Restaurants 
Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden®, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House® – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements 
Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.: General

(Analysts) Matthew Stroud, (407) 245-5288, (Media) Bob McAdam, (407) 245-5404
Tue, 14 Oct 2014 09:00:00 -0400

Jeffrey Smith Appointed Independent Non-Executive Chairman of the Board
Gene Lee to Serve as Interim CEO

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 14, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that its independent Inspector of Elections has certified the results of the Company's 2014 annual meeting. Accordingly, shareholders have elected all 12 Starboard-nominated directors to Darden's Board of Directors. They are: Betsy S. Atkins, Margaret Shan Atkins, Jean M. Birch, Bradley D. Blum, Peter A. Feld, James P. Fogarty, Cynthia T. Jamison, William H. Lenehan, Lionel L. Nowell, III, Jeffrey C. Smith, Charles M. Sonsteby, and Alan N. Stillman.

The Company's new Board has appointed Jeffrey C. Smith as Independent Non-Executive Chairman of the Board.  The Board also appointed Gene Lee, previously President and Chief Operating Officer, as interim Chief Executive Officer.  Mr. Lee succeeds Clarence Otis, who has stepped down from his role as CEO, effective immediately.

Mr. Smith said, "The new Board and I have appreciated the energy and attitude from within the organization.  Gene has proven to be an outstanding leader at Darden, and we are excited to work closely with him as our interim Chief Executive Officer.  The Board's Search Committee will conduct a full search for the next CEO of Darden, which will include both internal and external candidates."

Commenting on the appointment, Mr. Lee said, "I am thrilled with the opportunity provided by the Board to lead the Company and our 150,000 employees as we accelerate the progress at all of our brands.  Our teams are energized and looking with optimism at the opportunities ahead.  Everyone at Darden is focused on delivering an outstanding experience to every guest, every time, and with that level of commitment, our company will succeed."

Darden today also announced the appointment of the Board's committee chairs, effective immediately:

  • Cynthia T. Jamison: Audit Committee
  • Jeffrey C. Smith: CEO Search Committee
  • James P. Fogarty: Compensation Committee
  • William H. Lenehan: Finance and Real Estate Committee
  • Betsy S. Atkins: Nominating and Governance Committee

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden®, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House® – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Darden Contacts: (Analysts) Matthew Stroud, (407) 245-5288, or (Media) Bob McAdam, (407) 245-5404
Fri, 10 Oct 2014 09:44:00 -0400

New Board Excited to Immediately Begin Working with Darden's Dedicated Employees to Create Substantial Value for the Benefit of All Shareholders

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that, based on the preliminary vote count provided by its proxy solicitor following the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting, shareholders have elected all 12 Starboard-nominated directors to Darden's Board of Directors including: Betsy S. Atkins, Margaret Shan Atkins, Jean M. Birch, Bradley D. Blum, Peter A. Feld, James P. Fogarty, Cynthia T. Jamison, William H. Lenehan, Lionel L. Nowell, III, Jeffrey C. Smith, Charles M. Sonsteby, and Alan N. Stillman.

Speaking on behalf of Darden's newly elected Board, Jeffrey C. Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Starboard, said, "Darden has an incredibly strong foundation that reflects its iconic and growing brands, 150,000 dedicated employees, and many loyal and passionate guests. Darden's future is bright. The new Board is prepared and excited to immediately begin working alongside Darden's management team to put Darden on track for long-term value creation for all shareholders. My fellow Board members and I share a common goal for Darden – to enhance value for all of Darden's stakeholders, including its shareholders, employees, and guests, by focusing on excellence throughout the organization, maintaining and strengthening the investment-grade rating and dividend, and emphasizing a restaurant- and operations-centric culture built around great people. The new Board wishes the departing directors well, and we thank them and their advisors for ensuring a smooth and seamless transition process that will allow us to immediately focus on the priorities at hand, including the selection of a transformational leader to be Darden's CEO."                         

Mr. Smith concluded, "Darden has all the right ingredients to regain the strength and prominence it once enjoyed. The new Board is incredibly excited by the opportunity at hand. We look forward to continuing our hard work from inside the boardroom and working with management on a shared goal of excellence for Darden."

Speaking on behalf of Darden's outgoing directors, Charles A. Ledsinger Jr., the former Independent Non-Executive Chairman of Darden's Board, said, "We are extremely grateful to Darden Restaurants' talented and dedicated management and employees who, day after day, serve our customers with distinction and are the backbone of what makes Darden the preeminent casual dining company. We give our best wishes to the incoming directors, welcome the reconstituted Board and look forward to seeing continued progress at Darden. On behalf of the outgoing Board, it has been our privilege to serve."

Speaking on behalf of the Darden employees, Gene Lee, President and Chief Operating Officer of Darden said, "I am incredibly proud of our employees for their energy, passion and focus. Despite the recent distractions, our terrific employees remained focused on our priorities in the restaurants.  We fully understand that our guests need to receive great food and great service, and we continue to deliver. We are grateful that there is clear resolution at the Board level and very much look forward to working with our new Board to continue to drive improvements throughout the organization."

Darden noted that the preliminary vote count following the Annual Meeting also indicates that shareholders voted FOR the approval, on an advisory basis, of the Company's executive compensation; FOR the ratification of the appointment of KPMG LLP as Darden's independent registered public accounting firm for the fiscal year ending May 31, 2015; FOR a management proposal to amend the Company's bylaws to provide for proxy access; and AGAINST two shareholder proposals as described in the Company's associated Proxy Statement.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden®, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House® – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Contacts:
(Analysts) Matthew Stroud (407) 245-5288
(Media) Bob McAdam (407) 245-5404

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Thu, 02 Oct 2014 07:00:00 -0400

Expects Second Quarter Diluted Net EPS from Continuing Operations at Upper End of Range

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 2, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today reported U.S. same-restaurant sales for the five-week September fiscal month ended September 28, 2014.  This period is the first month of Darden's fiscal 2015 second quarter.

Same-Restaurant Sales

Fiscal September 2015

Fiscal September 2014

Olive Garden®

+0.6%

-2.6%

LongHorn Steakhouse®

+3.2%

+2.9%

The Capital Grille®

+6.4%

+1.5%

Yard House®

+3.8%

-0.6%

Seasons 52®

+1.3%

-3.2%

Bahama Breeze®

-0.3%

+1.7%

Eddie V's®

+4.0%

+3.8%

"We are pleased with the solid year-over-year same-restaurant sales increases we achieved in September at most of our brands, including at Olive Garden," said Gene Lee, President and Chief Operating Officer of Darden.  "These increases further demonstrate that Darden's operational improvements are taking hold.  In addition to Olive Garden's turnaround, we are driving continued growth at LongHorn Steakhouse and our Specialty Restaurant brands.  We thank Darden's employees across the Company for their unwavering focus on providing a superior guest experience, which has supported these results.  While we still have work to do, we look forward with confidence in the actions we are taking and in Darden's success."

Fiscal 2015 Second Quarter Financial Outlook

The Company also announced that it expects adjusted diluted net earnings per share from continuing operations for the second quarter of fiscal year 2015 to be at the upper end of its previously announced range of $0.26 to $0.28.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing more than 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's and Yard House – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information about Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our expected earnings performance and our ability to execute on our brand renaissance program and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Important Additional Information

The Company, its directors and certain of its executive officers are participants in the solicitation of proxies from stockholders in connection with the Company's 2014 annual meeting of stockholders (the "Annual Meeting").  Information regarding the names and interests of such participants in the Company's proxy solicitation is set forth in the Company's preliminary proxy statement, filed with the SEC on July 31, 2014, as amended, and the Company revocation solicitation statement, filed with the SEC on April 1, 2014.  Additional information can be found in the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended May 25, 2014, filed with the SEC on July 18, 2013.  These documents are available free of charge at the SEC's website at www.sec.gov.

The Company will be mailing a definitive proxy statement and proxy card to the stockholders entitled to vote at the Annual Meeting.  WE URGE INVESTORS TO READ ANY PROXY STATEMENT (INCLUDING ANY SUPPLEMENTS THERETO) AND ANY OTHER RELEVANT DOCUMENTS THAT THE COMPANY MAY FILE WITH THE SEC CAREFULLY AND IN THEIR ENTIRETY WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE BECAUSE THEY WILL CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION.  Stockholders will be able to obtain, free of charge, copies of any proxy statement and any other documents filed by the Company with the SEC in connection with the proxy solicitation at the SEC's website at www.sec.gov.  In addition, copies will also be available at no charge at the Investors section of the Company's website at http://investor.darden.com/investors/investor-relations/default.aspx.

Non-GAAP Information

The information in this press release includes financial information determined by methods other than in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America ("GAAP"), such as adjusted diluted net earnings per share.  The Company's management uses these non-GAAP measures in its analysis of the Company's performance.  The Company believes that the presentation of certain non-GAAP measures provides useful supplemental information that is essential to a proper understanding of the operating results of the Company's businesses.  These non-GAAP disclosures should not be viewed as a substitute for operating results determined in accordance with GAAP, nor are they necessarily comparable to non-GAAP performance measures that may be presented by other companies.

Contacts:


(Analysts) Matthew Stroud

(407) 245-5288

(Media) Rich Jeffers

(407) 245-4189

 

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Wed, 01 Oct 2014 08:05:00 -0400

Letter Highlights Significant Progress on Operating Priorities, Including Olive Garden Brand Renaissance
Darden's Director Nominees Are Confident in Darden's Future and Their Ability to Drive Superior Growth and Value Creation - For the Benefit of ALL Darden Shareholders
Darden Recommends Shareholders Vote "FOR ALL" on BLUE Proxy Card - the Only Card that Provides for Majority Change and a Balanced Approach of Fresh Perspectives, Continuity and Representation for Starboard Nominees
Warns Shareholders that Any Vote on the White Card Could Result in Giving Total Control of the Board to Starboard and Its Nominees

ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 1, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that it is mailing a letter to shareholders in connection with the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting of Shareholders.  This letter and other materials regarding the Board's recommendation for the 2014 Annual Meeting can be found on the Company's website and at www.DardenAnnualMeeting.com.

October 1, 2014

Dear Darden Shareholder:

We are pleased to report that the actions we have taken to reinvigorate restaurant performance, reduce costs and focus on opportunities we view as offering the highest value-creating potential are delivering positive results across the Company, including at Olive Garden®, LongHorn Steakhouse® and our Specialty Restaurants, which include The Capital Grille®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, Eddie V's® and Yard House®.

At Olive Garden, we are successfully implementing a far-reaching Brand Renaissance plan that includes:

  • A new menu to reinforce value, improve quality, expand choice and variety, and capitalize on the convenience trend by rolling out online To-Go sales, with excellent results thus far;
  • Enhancing the service and experience we provide to our guests.  The introduction of tabletop tablets and enhanced guest service training are two examples of the initiatives underway that we expect will continue to improve guest service and drive efficiencies with minimal capital investment;
  • More impactful and motivating advertising and promotions that emphasize brand-building for Olive Garden, rather than price points; and
  • A re-imaging program to enhance the dining experience, including new plate ware and server uniforms, a new logo and exterior signage, new table top merchandising, and a remodeling plan that contemplates 75 remodeled restaurants in fiscal 2015.

In our view, Gene Lee, Darden's President and Chief Operating Officer, and Dave George, President of Olive Garden, have done an excellent job executing the Olive Garden Brand Renaissance plan since being appointed to their new roles by Darden's Board of Directors in January and September 2013, respectively. 

The progress we are making at Olive Garden is reflected in the operating performance and improvements we reported in the Company's fiscal first quarter 2015 results:

  • Guest experience and satisfaction scores are improving across the system, including Overall, Attentiveness, Pace of Meal and Food Taste, as a result of an intensified focus on service and food quality.  We expect these results to translate into higher traffic trends over time.
  • Online ordering is underway and strengthening the take-out business.  In the first quarter of fiscal 2015, Olive Garden achieved a 13% increase in its take-out business compared to the first quarter last year.  In recent weeks, To-Go sales have grown at approximately 20% on a year-over-year basis.  Notably, the Company continues to see a 30% increase in check average when guests order online, which will drive margin growth should these trends continue.
  • Initial tests of tablet technology are generating positive results, including increased add-on sales, table turnover, guest survey response rates, and tip percentage for servers. 
  • The pilot remodel program is supporting higher traffic and sales momentum.  The Company has completed three remodels, which introduce significant interior and exterior improvements.  This has resulted in a more than 10% increase in traffic as well as an increase in alcohol and beverage sales.

Our progress is encouraging.  While system-wide improvement will take time given Olive Garden's size and already high unit sales volumes and returns, we have great confidence in Olive Garden's long-term success – and believe our shareholders have reason to be confident too.  The management team that is currently executing the Olive Garden Brand Renaissance has a strong record with Darden's other brands, having overseen tremendous growth at LongHorn Steakhouse and our Specialty Restaurants, all of which are continuing to deliver solid results.

  • At LongHorn Steakhouse, efforts to build the brand into America's favorite steakhouse are on track.  In fiscal 2014, LongHorn's same-restaurant sales (SRS) grew 2.7% year-over-year and exceeded the industry by 3.8 percentage points. This momentum carried into the 2015 fiscal first quarter with SRS up 2.8%.
  • At Darden's Specialty Restaurants, we continue to achieve solid growth.  In fiscal 2014, total sales exceeded $1.2 billion, a 25.2% increase from the prior year, and blended SRS grew 1.6%.  In the 2015 fiscal first quarter, blended SRS grew 2.1%.  We are confident that we will reach our goal of $1 billion in incremental sales from our Specialty Restaurant brands over the next five years.  

In addition to these brand initiatives, we have meaningfully reduced operating support costs.  In fiscal 2015, selling, general and administrative expenses as a percentage of sales are expected to be the lowest since Darden became a public company.

Even with this progress, we recognize that more must be done – and is being done – to return Darden to the superior growth and value creation for which it has historically been known.  We have made important enhancements to the Company's leadership structure, including announcing a search for a new Chief Executive Officer and the previously discussed appointments of Messrs. Lee and George.  In addition, we have announced a new slate of director nominees, who if elected, would result in eight of Darden's 12 independent directors being new to the Board this year, the election of a new independent Board chair and the reconstitution of all the Board's committees.  Darden's new slate includes four new, highly qualified independent nominees unaffiliated with the Company or Starboard; four continuing director nominees, all of who are committed to the positive change Darden is undertaking and to working constructively with the other members of the reconstituted Board; and four seats to be filled by candidates nominated by Starboard.  We believe Darden's slate provides the optimal balance of fresh perspectives and continuity of experience and insight into Darden's operations and industry trends overtime. 

Darden is a global company with a complex business that includes unique supply chain requirements, multiple consumer segments, specific brand needs and 150,000 employees.  It requires long-term vision and long-term strategic planning to drive sustainable value creation.  Darden's director nominees have experience and proven records directly overseeing complex operations similar to Darden's, guiding successful strategic execution, operational turnarounds and asset optimization initiatives. Collectively, we believe we have the expertise needed to continue the progress Darden is making and to capture the opportunities ahead for additional value creation.  This expertise includes:

  • Leading global consumer and retail companies with skill sets in operations, food service and restaurants, hospitality, consumer marketing/brand building, supply chain and distribution management, and consumer packaged goods;
  • Developing and executing significant corporate turnarounds through operational improvements, increased financial discipline and exiting of non-core businesses;
  • Optimizing asset portfolios through franchising, real estate development, and mergers and acquisitions, with many of Darden's independent directors directly overseeing or guiding the strategic direction of real estate portfolios;
  • Serving as senior executive leaders at other publicly traded companies, including in the roles of Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, as well as serving in Board committee leadership roles and as individual directors; and
  • Developing strategies and policies in other key areas, including technology, human resources, and corporate governance.

All of us on Darden's slate – our four new independent directors and our four continuing independent directors – are focused on enhancing shareholder value.  We are open to exploring all options for Darden's assets to ensure that we deliver on this objective, and we are united in our commitment to representing the best interests of ALL Darden shareholders.

In contrast, we are concerned that ceding total control of Darden's Board to Starboard and its preferred nominees would be disruptive to the Company and to the value of your investment in Darden.  Further, we do not believe that it is in the interests of all shareholders to have 86% of the Board be composed of directors selected and nominated by a single minority shareholder who holds 8.8% of the shares. 

We believe that decisions critical to Darden's success and its ability to maintain its industry-leading $2.20 per share annual dividend – including decisions regarding capital allocation, strategic direction and the selection of Darden's next Chief Executive Officer – should be made by a truly independent, well-rounded Board that represents the interests of all Darden shareholders.

We urge you: Vote for the benefits and balance provided by fresh perspectives and continuity.  Vote for experience.  Support progress and value creation.  Vote "FOR ALL" of Darden's highly qualified and independent nominees on the BLUE proxy card today.

Sincerely,

/s/ Michael W. Barnes

Michael W. Barnes

/s/ Gregory L. Burns

Gregory L. Burns

/s/ Jeffrey H. Fox

Jeffrey H. Fox

/s/Christopher J. Fraleigh

Christopher J. Fraleigh





/s/ Steve Odland           

Steve Odland               

/s/ Michael D. Rose

Michael D. Rose          

/s/ Maria A. Sastre

Maria A. Sastre

/s/ Enrique Silva

Enrique Silva

 

YOUR VOTE IS IMPORTANT!

 

To ensure that your instructions are received timely, we urge you to vote by telephone or Internet by following the easy instructions on the enclosed BLUE proxy card.

 

CAUTION: Any vote on the white card could result in the full turnover of Darden's Board.  Darden urges shareholders – DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN ANY WHITE CARD. SIMPLY DISCARD IT.

 

If you have questions or need assistance in voting your shares,
please contact our proxy solicitor:

 

INNISFREE M&A INCORPORATED

 

Stockholders call toll-free: (877) 825-8631
Banks and Brokers call collect: (212) 750-5833

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's and Yard House – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Contacts:


(Analysts) Matthew Stroud

(407) 245-5288

(Media) Bob McAdam

(407) 245-5404

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Tue, 30 Sep 2014 14:12:00 -0400

Egan-Jones Again Recognizes the Benefits of Fresh Perspectives and Continuity of Experience and Insight as Provided by Darden's Slate as Well as the Risks of Ceding Control to Starboard

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 30, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that leading independent proxy advisory firm, Egan-Jones Proxy Services ("Egan-Jones"), has reaffirmed its recommendation that Darden shareholders vote on the Company's BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's nominees to the Board of Directors at the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held on October 10, 2014.

In its September 25, 2014 report, and reaffirmed in its September 30, 2014 report, Egan-Jones stated[1]:

We believe that support for voting the management ballot is merited and that voting the management ballot (BLUE PROXY CARD) is in the best interest of the Company and its shareholders. In arriving at that conclusion, we have considered the following factors:

  1. We applaud the Company having proposed that its 12-member board include eight new nominees for director including four picked by the dissidents. We believe that this balanced approach would give Starboard significant input on board deliberations and decisions with a board representation percentage of 33%, generously far exceeding its reported 8.8% interest in the Company.
  2. We believe that the total turnover of the board, as proposed by the dissidents, would have an extremely disruptive effect upon the Company's implementation of its current plans and search for a new CEO. We also note that we believe it would be unwise to turn over complete control of the board to a shareholder which has not paid shareholders a control premium for their shares.
  3. We believe that the new slate proposed by management is comprised of individuals who have a broad base of skills and expertise needed to support the Company going forward.

The nominees appear qualified, and we recommend that clients vote "FOR ALL" the nominees.

Darden stated:

We are pleased that this proxy advisory firm has again recognized the importance of continuity, the benefits of Darden's balanced slate, and the experience and qualifications of our nominees, and has reaffirmed its recommendation that Darden shareholders vote "FOR ALL" of the Company's director nominees on the BLUE proxy card.   

We have heard from many of our shareholders who do not support ceding total control of the Board to Starboard and its nominees. While these shareholders support new perspectives, they also recognize the risks of the full board turnover that Starboard is seeking.  Darden's slate of director nominees is the only slate that provides the benefit and balance of new perspectives as well as continuity of experience and insights with four new independent nominees unaffiliated with the Company or Starboard, four highly qualified continuing independent nominees, and four seats to be filled by Starboard – resulting in eight of 12 new independent directors this year. 

In addition to Egan-Jones and many industry analysts and shareholders, another proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis & Co. ("Glass Lewis"), has also acknowledged the benefits of continuity as well as the improvements underway in Darden's operations, governance and leadership that are already showing positive results, including at Olive Garden®.  Although Glass Lewis did not recommend voting on the blue card, in its September 24, 2014 report, Glass Lewis stated1:

"In our view, the strongest argument for considering support of the Company's proposed slate is that it would facilitate a degree of continuity, which could help to maintain positive momentum that Darden has going for it."

"shareholders should be encouraged by some of Darden's actions during recent months -- including a new comprehensive plan to enhance shareholder value, governance improvements, leadership changes and an operational turnaround plan for its largest brand."

Darden noted that by attempting to replace all 12 members of Darden's Board with its own preferred nominees, Starboard is seeking effective control of the Company.  Darden does not believe that it is in the best interests of all shareholders for a single minority shareholder to control 86% of the Board's representation when it holds 8.8% of the shares2

Darden shareholders are reminded that their vote is important, no matter how many or how few shares they own.  The Darden Board urges shareholders to vote ONLY on the BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's highly qualified, experienced and independent director nomineesMichael W. Barnes, Gregory L. Burns, Jeffrey H. Fox, Christopher J. Fraleigh, Steve Odland, Michael D. Rose, Maria A. Sastre and Enrique Silva.  Shareholders may vote by mail, phone or internet following the instructions on the BLUE proxy card. 

CAUTION: Any vote on the white card could result in the full turnover of Darden's Board.  Darden urges shareholders – DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN ANY WHITE CARD. SIMPLY DISCARD IT.

Innisfree M&A Incorporated is serving as the Company's proxy solicitor and can be contacted toll-free at (877) 825-8631.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House® – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

1 Permission to use quotations neither sought nor obtained

2 Assumes 14-member Board.

NEWS/INFORMATION

Corporate Relations

P.O. Box 695011

Orlando, FL 32869-5011


Contacts:

(Analysts) Matthew Stroud

(407) 245-5288

(Media) Bob McAdam

(407) 245-5404

 

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 07:00:00 -0400

Darden Says Many Shareholders Have Expressed Support for New Perspectives But Also Recognize the Risks of Ceding Total Control of the Board to Starboard and Its Nominees
Darden Recommends Shareholders Vote "FOR ALL" on BLUE Proxy Card - the Only Card that Provides for Majority Change and a Balanced Approach of Fresh Perspectives, Continuity and Representation for Starboard Nominees
Warns Shareholders that Any Vote on the White Card Could Result in Giving Total Control of the Board to Starboard and Its Nominees

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 26, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today issued the following statement regarding a September 25, 2014 report by Institutional Shareholder Services ("ISS").  The report relates to the election of directors to Darden's Board of Directors at the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held on October 10, 2014.

We believe that shareholders should be alarmed that ISS has recommended wholesale change with virtually NO regard in its report to the positive improvement underway in Darden's operations, the risks associated with the full Board turnover that Starboard Value L.P. and its affiliates ("Starboard") is seeking, and the meaningful enhancements made to Darden's leadership structure, including the search for a new Chief Executive Officer and the Company's new slate of independent director nominees, which would result in eight of 12 directors new this year.  Instead, the ISS report places large reliance on mistaken perceptions regarding the Red Lobster transaction that are inconsistent with the facts.

The sale of Red Lobster was the culmination of a robust and deliberate review process that began in early 2013.  This process was designed to enable Darden to maximize value and minimize risks associated with continuing to own the business, including risks from the brand's ongoing deterioration and uncertain pathway for recovery.  The sale is also consistent with Darden's strategy of increasing its focus on its Olive Garden® Brand Renaissance.  The $2.1 billion all cash consideration from the Red Lobster sale provided Darden with immediate and certain value to reduce debt and support our capital return initiatives, including a significant share repurchase and maintaining the Company's annual dividend at $2.20 per share.  The flawed analysis upon which ISS relies results in $107 million of incorrect costs that were never incurred and undervalues the amount of the deal consideration attributable to Red Lobster's operating business and related assets by nearly half a billion dollars, as detailed in the presentation and associated press release issued by Darden on August 4, 2014.     

Contrary to ISS's view, we have heard from many shareholders who do not support ceding total control of the Board to Starboard and its nominees. While these shareholders support new perspectives, they also recognize the risks of the full board turnover that Starboard is seeking – risks that ISS appears to have ignored.  Darden's slate of director nominees is the only slate that provides the benefit and balance of new perspectives as well as continuity of experience and insights with four new independent nominees unaffiliated with the Company or Starboard, four highly qualified continuing independent nominees, and four seats to be filled by Starboard – resulting in eight of 12 new independent directors this year.

There are critical and value-impacting decisions facing Darden – including the selection of Darden's next Chief Executive Officer and strategic decisions regarding our brands, cost structure and operating initiatives.  We believe these decisions are best made by an independent, balanced Board that is comprised of directors who are best-positioned to represent the interests of ALL Darden shareholders.  Indeed, we believe it would be a mistake to entrust these decisions to the handpicked nominees of one minority shareholder, Starboard. In doing so, the ISS recommendation would replace the robust boardroom debate required of sound corporate governance and enabled by independent thinkers with Starboard's 12 director nominees who are already committed to following Starboard's point of view. 

In determining their vote, we urge all Darden shareholders to consider the following:

  • We are making significant progress on our operating priorities, including the Olive Garden Brand Renaissance.  In a "people facing" business where relationships matter, too much turnover, particularly at the leadership level, can be distracting and disruptive.  Darden has already announced a search for a new Chief Executive Officer.  We do not believe it is in shareholders' best interests to elect an entirely new Board, which could impede initiatives that are largely underway and delivering results.
  • We believe Darden's four continuing independent directors provide critical knowledge and insights about the Company, the industry and what has made Darden's brands successful over time and through various economic cycles.  This institutional knowledge cannot be replaced or replicated by any of Starboard's nominees; we believe that removing all of Darden's continuing nominees, and the knowledge they provide, would hinder the progress we are making and successful decision making going forward.
  • New, independent perspectives are valuable.  Darden's slate contemplates four new independent nominees unaffiliated with the Company or Starboard as well as four seats to be filled by candidates proposed by Starboard.  All of Darden's director nominees share the common goal of enhancing shareholder value and are prepared to work collaboratively with the four Starboard nominees to consider all alternatives to achieve this objective.   

In contrast, in addition to what we believe are significant experience gaps in the Starboard slate, four of Starboard's nominees have been nominated and added to at least one other Board through Starboard (Peter Feld, James Fogarty, Cynthia Jamison and Jeff Smith), and several nominees have previously led their own activism campaigns or served as dissident director candidates (Betsy Atkins, Brad Blum, Peter Feld, William Lenehan and Jeff Smith).  In addition, as previously detailed in a prior press release, a review of the public record shows a web of numerous other connections that Starboard's director nominees have to Starboard, to Jeff Smith and to each other, and Starboard's nominees have already publicly pre-committed themselves to following Starboard's plan.  These factors raise concerns to us about the independence of Starboard's nominees and their willingness to serve the best interests of ALL Darden shareholders.

We do not believe Starboard's director nominees are best suited to take total control of Darden's Board of Directors.

In another contest for control, even ISS has recognized the value of a truly independent dissident slate comprised solely of nominees who have no prior affiliation with the dissident and are "independent of the large dissident shareholder…so that the proposed change in control of the board is not a de facto shift of control to that shareholder itself.  The willingness of that shareholder to keep any of its employees out of the nomination, moreover, strongly suggests an appropriate attentiveness on [the dissident's] part to the independent fiduciary role of the board, and a sharp focus on optimizing the chances for the company's success under the reconstituted board."1

  • While ISS suggests that Starboard will add back two of Darden's current directors, we do not believe that two isolated voices – against twelve nominees already predisposed and pre-committed to one shareholder's point of view – will provide for the meaningful, independent and robust boardroom debate and direction that is required to drive sustainable value creation, particularly given the strategic decisions that Darden faces.  Further, we see no reason for shareholders to entrust Starboard and its nominees to make these selections; we believe shareholders should decide for themselves which directors should be elected.
  • Darden is a global company with a complex business that includes unique supply chain requirements, multiple consumer segments, specific brand needs and 150,000 employees.  It requires long-term vision and long-term strategic planning to drive sustainable value creation.  Darden's director nominees have experience and proven records directly overseeing complex operations similar to Darden's, guiding successful strategic execution, operational turnarounds and asset optimization initiatives.
  • By attempting to replace all 12 members of Darden's Board with its own preferred nominees, Starboard is seeking effective control of the Company.  We do not believe that it is in the interests of all shareholders for a single minority shareholder to control 86% of the Board's representation when it holds 8.8% of the shares2

Darden shareholders are reminded that their vote is important, no matter how many or how few shares they own.  The Darden Board urges shareholders to vote ONLY on the BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's highly qualified, experienced and independent director nomineesMichael W. Barnes, Gregory L. Burns, Jeffrey H. Fox, Christopher J. Fraleigh, Steve Odland, Michael D. Rose, Maria A. Sastre and Enrique Silva.  Shareholders may vote by mail, phone or internet following the instructions on the BLUE proxy card. 

CAUTION: Any vote on the white card could result in the full turnover of Darden's Board.  Darden urges shareholders – DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN ANY WHITE CARD. SIMPLY DISCARD IT.

Innisfree M&A Incorporated is serving as the Company's proxy solicitor and can be contacted toll-free at (877) 825-8631.

1 ISS Recommendation in Glenview Capital Management's Consent Solicitation to Replace the Entire Board of Health Management Associates (HMA), 08-Aug-2013. Permission to use quotations neither sought nor obtained.
2 Assumes 14-member Board.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House® – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Contacts:


(Analysts) Matthew Stroud

(407) 245-5288

(Media) Bob McAdam

(407) 245-5404

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 15:02:00 -0400

Egan-Jones Recognizes the Benefits of Fresh Perspectives and Continuity of Experience and Insight as Provided by Darden's Slate as Well as the Risks of Ceding Control to Starboard

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 25, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced that leading independent proxy advisory firm, Egan-Jones Proxy Services, has recommended that Darden shareholders vote on the Company's BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's nominees to the Board of Directors at the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting of Shareholders to be held on October 10, 2014.

In its September 25, 2014, report, Egan-Jones stated[1]:

We believe that support for voting the management ballot is merited and that voting the management ballot (BLUE PROXY CARD) is in the best interest of the Company and its shareholders. In arriving at that conclusion, we have considered the following factors:

  1. We applaud the Company having proposed that its 12-member board include eight new nominees for director including four picked by the dissidents. We believe that this balanced approach would give Starboard significant input on board deliberations and decisions with a board representation percentage of 33%, generously far exceeding its reported 8.8% interest in the Company.
  2. We believe that the total turnover of the board, as proposed by the dissidents, would have an extremely disruptive effect upon the Company's implementation of its current plans and search for a new CEO. We also note that we believe it would be unwise to turn over complete control of the board to a shareholder which has not paid shareholders a control premium for their shares.
  3. We believe that the new slate proposed by management is comprised of individuals who have a broad base of skills and expertise needed to support the Company going forward.

The nominees appear qualified, and we recommend that clients vote "FOR ALL" the nominees.

Darden stated:

We are pleased that this leading proxy advisory firm recognizes the benefits of Darden's balanced slate, the importance of continuity, and the experience and qualifications of our nominees, and has recommended Darden shareholders vote "FOR ALL" of the Company's director nominees on the BLUE proxy card. 

Darden noted that, in addition to Egan-Jones and many industry analysts (as detailed in the Company's September 22, 2014 press release), another proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis & Co. ("Glass Lewis"), has also acknowledged the benefits of continuity as well as the improvements underway in Darden's operations, governance and leadership that are already showing positive results, including at Olive Garden®.  Although Glass Lewis did not recommend voting on the blue card, in its September 24, 2014, report Glass Lewis stated1:

"In our view, the strongest argument for considering support of the Company's proposed slate is that it would facilitate a degree of continuity, which could help to maintain positive momentum that Darden has going for it."

"shareholders should be encouraged by some of Darden's actions during recent months -- including a new comprehensive plan to enhance shareholder value, governance improvements, leadership changes and an operational turnaround plan for its largest brand."

Darden shareholders are reminded that their vote is important, no matter how many or how few shares they own.  The Darden Board urges shareholders to vote ONLY on the BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's highly qualified, experienced and independent director nomineesMichael W. Barnes, Gregory L. Burns, Jeffrey H. Fox, Christopher J. Fraleigh, Steve Odland, Michael D. Rose, Maria A. Sastre and Enrique Silva.  Shareholders may vote by mail, phone or internet following the instructions on the BLUE proxy card. 

CAUTION: Any vote on the white card is a vote for Starboard's control slate as it could revoke any previous proxy submitted using the BLUE proxy card.  Only the latest-dated proxy counts. Darden urges shareholders – DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN ANY WHITE CARD. SIMPLY DISCARD IT.

Innisfree M&A Incorporated is serving as the Company's proxy solicitor and can be contacted toll-free at (877) 825-8631.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse®, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House® – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

[1] Permission to use quotations neither sought nor obtained

Contacts:
(Analysts) Matthew Stroud (407) 245-5288
(Media) Bob McAdam (407) 245-5404 

SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 08:03:00 -0400

Highlights Starboard's Troubling, Inconsistent, Contradictory and Misleading Statements
Recommends Darden Shareholders Vote "FOR ALL" on the BLUE Proxy Card Today

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 23, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today issued an open letter to shareholders in connection with the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting of Shareholders.  This and other materials regarding the Board's recommendation for the 2014 Annual Meeting can be found on the Company's website and at www.DardenAnnualMeeting.com.

Dear Darden Shareholder:

As demonstrated by our recent results, the passionate support we have received from tens of thousands of guests, and the continued dedication of our 150,000 employees, we are making significant progress on Darden's operating priorities, including the Olive Garden® Brand Renaissance, for the benefit of our shareholders, employees and guests.  We strongly believe that we are on the right track to achieve the superior levels of growth and value creation for which Darden has been known.

As we work to build on this momentum, there are critical and value-impacting decisions facing the Company – including the selection of Darden's next Chief Executive Officer and strategic decisions regarding our brands, cost structure and operating initiatives.  We believe these decisions are best made by a truly independent Board that is comprised of directors who represent and are committed to serving the interests of ALL Darden shareholders. 

All eight of Darden's independent director nominees, including our four new independent nominees and our four continuing independent directors, are indeed committed to serving the best interests of all Darden shareholders.  We share the common goal of enhancing shareholder value, and we are prepared to work collaboratively with the four Starboard nominees that our slate contemplates to achieve this objective.

We are deeply concerned, however, about the future of Darden if Starboard's slate is elected and believe it is important to correct the record with regard to a number of inconsistent, contradictory and misleading statements made by Starboard as part of its efforts to take control of your company.

The Loyalty Oath of Starboard's Director Nominees – Our View

According to Starboard's proxy statement, which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

Each of Starboard's director nominees "is committed to the implementation of [Starboard's] comprehensive turnaround plan for Darden. Therefore, in the event that [Starboard's] director nominees comprise a majority of the Board following the Annual Meeting, we[, Starboard,] expect that the Board will implement [Starboard's] comprehensive turnaround plan for Darden." 

This statement was followed by a 294-page slide presentation on Starboard's plan as well as a press release re-affirming that the "only way to ensure" that the plan is enacted is to elect Starboard's slate of director nominees.  These statements make clear to us that Starboard's nominees have already reached a conclusion on Starboard's plan – and devoted themselves to following it, even though it was formulated without access to non-public details on the Company's business, finances and operating initiatives. 

We find it incredulous that Starboard's nominees have now recently tried to assert that they are not in fact committed to Starboard's plan, stating, "We certainly have not pledged to implement a pre-set agenda as board members, nor has Starboard ever asked us to do so," even though their proxy and other public statements say otherwise.  We believe that the nominees' waffling over their commitment to Starboard's plan underscores the danger of giving control to Starboard and its handpicked nominees. 

Starboard's Hollow "Plan" to "Add Back Up to Two" Current Directors if Shareholders Elect All 12 Starboard Nominees – Our View

Starboard attempts to reassure shareholders who are concerned about Starboard taking control of Darden by now indicating that it has a "plan," if all 12 of its nominees are elected, to consider adding back "up to two" of the Board's incumbent directors to join Starboard's Board and, after the Annual Meeting, "would endeavour to meet with certain of the incumbent directors" as part of this plan.1  Of course, Starboard has not disclosed whether, in seeking only the "right kind of continuity" for your Board, it would require the "up to" two unnamed Darden directors to commit to the same loyalty oath to the Starboard agenda that was elicited from all 12 of Starboard's director nominees.  Nor is it clear whether this Starboard "plan" would result in any offers being made or the best directors being willing to serve in this context.  In any event, we do not believe that it is in the interests of all shareholders for a single minority shareholder to control 86% of the Board's representation when it holds 8.8% of the shares. 

Further, we do not believe that "up to two" isolated voices – against twelve already predisposed nominees who have pre-committed to one shareholder's point of view – will provide for the meaningful, independent and robust Board-room debate and direction that is required to drive sustainable value creation, particularly given the strategic decisions that Darden faces. 

We also question Starboard's sincerity in making this claim since it has failed to (1) specify which Darden directors it would appoint or (2) amend its slate to allow for two of Darden's nominees to be added to the Board as Darden has done for four of Starboard's nominees.  By failing to do so, it appears that Starboard intends to control for itself and its nominees which Darden directors are appointed rather than allow shareholders to decide for themselves – once again, putting Starboard's goal of control in the forefront. 

Starboard Is Misleading You By Portraying Many of Darden's Operating Initiatives as Its Own – Our View

Over the past months, members of Darden's Board and leadership team have been in regular dialogue with Starboard regarding our operating plan.  We have had eight meetings and conversations since January.

In reviewing Starboard's operating plan, many of the concepts which Starboard touts and seeks to present as new are in fact already being executed, and Starboard was informed that these were being executed during our earlier discussions with them.  We are pleased that Starboard appears to agree with much of Darden's plan.

We do not believe it is in shareholders' interests to elect an entirely new Board, which could impede operating initiatives that are largely already underway and delivering results.

Starboard's Olive Garden Plan Replicates Actions Already Underway, Which are Delivering Results

We Believe Starboard's Criticisms of Olive Garden's Management Are Inconsistent with the Real and Measurable Progress Being Made at Olive Garden

Darden's Board – and four continuing director nominees – have made important changes to the Company's leadership and strategy to better address industry challenges and position Darden for success.  We believe these changes were well-considered and timely planned; they are delivering positive results across the Company, including at Olive Garden.

  • Gene Lee was named President and Chief Operating Officer of Darden Restaurants in September 2013.  Previously, he served as President of Darden's Specialty Restaurants for six years.  Under Mr. Lee's leadership, Specialty Restaurants grew from 60 to 175 restaurants, including the acquisition of two brands – Eddie V's® and Yard House® – while delivering annualized sales growth of 17 percent and annual restaurant earnings growth of 26 percent.    
  • Dave George was named President of Olive Garden in January 2013.  Previously, he served as president of LongHorn Steakhouse® for nine years.  Since acquiring the brand in fiscal 2008, Mr. George has successfully grown LongHorn from 290 restaurants to a leading national brand with more than 400 restaurants today.

As discussed in the Company's recent conference call for its fiscal 2015 first quarter results, Olive Garden is improving under the direction of Messrs. Lee and George.  For example:

  • Menu changes are reinforcing value and relevance, improving quality and simplifying processes.
  • Guest experience and satisfaction scores are improving.
  • The take-out business is strengthening, leading to higher To-Go sales.
  • Increased use of tablet technology in restaurants is supporting increased add-on sales, table turns, and tip percentage for servers.
  • Our successful reimaging program is increasing traffic and alcohol and beverage sales.
  • A broader media reach is being implemented with a variety of messages and mediums.

This progress, the strength of our management team as well as their proven records with Darden's other brands give us confidence in the actions we are taking and in Olive Garden's continued success.

We have announced a search for a new Chief Executive Officer.  However, we believe that further changes to the management team or structure, particularly at the brand level, would undermine the progress being made. 

We are also perplexed by Starboard's attack on the Olive Garden management.  Gene Lee and Dave George led the very team that delivered the outstanding results at our Specialty Restaurants and LongHorn Steakhouse – brands that Starboard and its nominees tout as "fantastic," and we are working hard to deliver these same fantastic results at Olive Garden.

Starboard Has Cherry Picked Dates and Misrepresents Darden's Actual Stock Performance – Darden Stock Has Increased and Actually Outperformed Peers Since the Red Lobster Sale Was Announced

Starboard's September 11, 2014 presentation materials show misleading stock performance charts.  Buried in the footnotes are details showing that Starboard has cherry picked an end date of March 14, 2014 – over six months ago – which we believe results in a grossly inaccurate and misleading portrayal of Darden's actual comparable stock performance to date. 

Similarly, Starboard has selectively picked dates to inaccurately portray Darden's stock performance following the sale of Red Lobster, here choosing an end date of July 25, 2014 – almost two months ago.  Contrary to Starboard's claims, Darden's stock price has increased and has outperformed its peers since the announcement.

Starboard Claims that the Red Lobster Sale

 

Furthermore, Darden's Stock Has Meaningfully Outperformed Its Peers Since the Red Lobster Announcement

We Believe that the Starboard Nominees' Experience Gaps and Numerous Connections to Starboard, Jeff Smith and Each Other Undermine Starboard's Claim that Its Slate Is the "Best Board" to Control Darden – Our View

  • Five of Starboard's nominees have NO experience as senior executives of large public companies (Betsy Atkins, Peter Feld, James Fogarty, William Lenehan, and Jeff Smith);
  • Four of Starboard's nominees have NO restaurant, retail, or real estate executive experience whatsoever (Betsy Atkins, Peter Feld, Jeff Smith, and Lionel Nowell);
  • Only five of Starboard's nominees have any restaurant operating experience, and some of it appears to us to be unsuccessful or so dated as to make it stale and arguably not relevant in today's operating environment.  For example, Brad Blum worked at Darden a decade ago – when consumer dynamics and the economic and industry environment were very different.  Since then, we believe he has failed to replicate Olive Garden's success at any other Italian casual dining concept.  In fact, sales at Romano's Macaroni Grill fell 3.2% during the time that Mr. Blum served as Chief Executive Officer from 2008 to 2010.  Further, Mr. Blum has worked at or for at least four different restaurant companies since leaving Darden, yet he has not held any of these positions for more than two years.  For example, Starboard touts his two years of experience at Burger King, "which resulted in a successful IPO in 2006," but fails to disclose that Mr. Blum was not actually employed by Burger King at the time of its initial public offering.  While it is not public why Mr. Blum failed to stay in all of these positions, this pattern of short-term tenures is not consistent with the long-term vision and focus needed at Darden;   
  • Of the 70 public company board experiences Starboard's nominees claim, it appears to us that a significant portion is represented by a single serial director nominee and many were of short-term tenure.  Betsy Atkins, for example, has served on more than 30 boards; of the 23 that we can verify through public records, she has served for only an average of 3.7 years (in one case serving only 16 days).  Jeff Smith's average tenure on a public company Board is 15 months.  We believe such records of short tenure are inconsistent with long-term value creation and do not justify the unqualified embrace that Starboard asks you to give all 12 of its nominees; and
  • Four of Starboard's nominees have been nominated and added to at least one other Board through Starboard (Peter Feld, James Fogarty, Cynthia Jamison and Jeff Smith), and several nominees have previously led their own activism campaigns or served as dissident director candidates (Betsy Atkins, Brad Blum, Peter Feld, William Lenehan and Jeff Smith).  In addition, as previously detailed in a prior press release, a review of the public record shows a web of numerous other connections that Starboard's director nominees have to Starboard, to Jeff Smith and to each other.  These connections, combined with their public commitment to implement Starboard's agenda, raise concerns in our view about allowing a single minority shareholder – Starboard – to take control of Darden.

Starboard's Control Slate of Preferred Nominees with Experience Gaps and Questionable Independence v. Darden's Balanced Slate of Highly Qualified Independent Nominees Who Offer New Perspectives and Continuity of Expertise – Our View

The Darden slate provides a balance of new perspectives and continuity of expertise, while also being designed to avoid the risks and destabilization that could result from putting total control of the Board in the hands of a single minority shareholder's nominees through the full Board turnover that Starboard is seeking. 

Darden's slate is committed to looking at the Company with a fresh perspective, to fully optimizing the Company's brands and assets, and to taking all appropriate steps to drive value creation.

We urge shareholders to vote ONLY on Darden's BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's nominees.

On behalf of Darden's Board of Directors, thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

/s/ Charles A. Ledsinger Jr.

Charles A. Ledsinger Jr.
Independent Non-Executive Chairman of the Board

CAUTION: Any vote on the white card is a vote for Starboard's control slate as it could revoke any previous proxy you submitted using the BLUE proxy card. Only your latest-dated proxy counts. We urge shareholders – DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN ANY WHITE CARD. SIMPLY DISCARD IT.

Innisfree M&A Incorporated is serving as the Company's proxy solicitor and can be contacted toll-free at (877) 825-8631.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's and Yard House – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

1 Source: Starboard press release 'Starboard's Director Nominees Issue Letter to Darden Shareholders' dated 19-September-2014 and Starboard Definitive Proxy Statement filing dated 28-August-2014.

 


NEWS/INFORMATION


Corporate Relations


P.O. Box 695011


Orlando, FL 32869-5011

Contacts:


(Analysts) Matthew Stroud

(407) 245-5288

(Media) Bob McAdam

(407) 245-5404

 

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SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Mon, 22 Sep 2014 08:00:00 -0400

Recommends Darden Shareholders Vote "FOR ALL" on the BLUE Proxy Card Today

ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today issued the following statement in connection with the Company's 2014 Annual Meeting of Shareholders:

Darden's leadership is successfully executing an operating plan that we believe will result in exceptional returns for our shareholders and growth for our brands that exceeds industry benchmarks, while still supporting the Company's current $2.20 per share annual dividend.  We are concerned that replacing the entire Darden Board, as Starboard is seeking to do, would be significantly disruptive and destabilizing to the Company, and would introduce significant risks to shareholder value, particularly given the progress we are making.  Many industry analysts are supportive of the actions we are taking and recognize the positive change underway at Darden.[1]

Many industry analysts recognize that Darden's new slate and change in leadership provide the benefits of new perspectives as well as continuity of experience and expertise…

"In our view, DRI's plan of four existing/four new independent/four Starboard board members represents a good balance between continuity and fresh perspectives."  (Susquehanna Financial Group, 15-September-2014)

"We believe Darden's proposed slate represents a prudent approach in that it would yield a group that could bring fresh perspective to DRI while allowing for some continuity that would not be associated with Starboard's plan to replace the entire board." (Robert W. Baird, 12-September-2014)

"We expect shareholders will like this plan as it should provide the change agents shareholders are seeking without giving Starboard complete control." (KeyBanc, 02-September-2014)

"Starboard gets 4 seats (up from 3 prior), along with nomination of 4 new independents & 4 incumbents. We believe a reasonable concession, providing 'benefits of fresh perspectives and continuity while avoiding risks associated with full board turnover.'"
(Barclays, 02-September-2014)

"We generally view this decision favorably, as the new independent and Starboard board members can bring additional perspective in expanding brand reach, improving operations, or exploring potential real estate transactions." (Morningstar Equity Research, 02-September-2014)

"we applaud Darden's Board for making the move to seek new leadership and separate the Chairman and CEO roles as it attempts to restore health and confidence in the company."
(CLSA Americas, 28-July-2014)

…and also recognize the risk and disruption that could result from removing all of Darden's directors – and the knowledge and experience they provide – as Starboard has proposed.

"We see risk that the replacement of the entire Board (as proposed by Starboard) and broader management changes could cause distraction/disruption that could impede progress on improving core operating fundamentals." (Robert W. Baird, 12-September-2014)

"In our view, the disruption is likely to intensify after the October 10th shareholder meeting and vote no matter which side prevails. In our opinion, there is high risk of short-term disruption that could be damaging to the business." (Bank of America Merrill Lynch, 12-September-2014)

"With 1QF15 complete, attention is now squarely on the upcoming '14 Annual Meeting on 10/10. The focus will be board representation, with activist Starboard (8.8% holder) pushing for full board turnover (12 members). We struggle with such drastic change in the midst of a major portfolio transformation, as we are somewhat more conservative in nature, rather believing a hybrid of new and old board members the best approach. This would allow for significant fresh perspective, while maintaining an element of continuity." (Barclays, 12-September-2014)

"In our view, continued pressure from Starboard and other activist investors could disrupt management's strategic action plans and adds another layer of uncertainty to future free cash flow projections." (Morningstar Equity Research, 08-July-2014)

"Activists traditionally aren't geared towards operating companies. Essentially what you now have is a fundamental story where it is all about the turnaround because the sale of Red Lobster is going to move forward in July as planned, and so does Starboard really think that another board or another management team could do it better? I'm not sure. Casual dining has been suffering as a whole." (Rachel Rothman of Susquehanna Financial Group, CNBC, 20-June-2014)

Many industry analysts are supportive of the actions we are taking to improve performance and recognize the progress we are making…

…executing the Olive Garden® brand renaissance…

"Many of the suggestions [for Olive Garden] put forth by Starboard seem similar to initiatives that are either underway or under evaluation at DRI currently, and we believe that DRI's access to more detailed internal information means that it is likely moving forward with the initiatives it feels holds the most promise." (Susquehanna Financial Group, 15-September-2014)

"We are raising our rating on Darden to Outperform from Underperform as we believe intense focus on the restaging of Olive Garden, better visibility into its remodeling effort and the confluence of strategic events, including imminent changes at the C-Suite level, suggest improved performance going forward and merits a change on the stock." (CLSA Americas, 15-September-2014)

"To what degree do these activists know about running some of these companies…Thank you. Thank you JC Penney activists… I think a more focused company without the anvil around the neck of Red Lobster is capable of doing more things than we thought…I think a progression is what we want to see. I love the way Olive Garden is turning here."
(Jim Cramer, Squawk on the Street, 12-September-2014)

"We are maintaining our Buy rating on DRI as we believe change is underway at Olive Garden whether or not activist investor Starboard Value is able to secure a Board majority at the upcoming shareholder meeting. The initial read on the Olive Garden remodel program appears promising and we believe there are considerable operational and cost-cutting opportunities ahead." (Sterne Agee, 12-September-2014)

"Olive Garden same-restaurant sales trends improved throughout the quarter because of expanded value options across multiple menu tiers, increased online and takeout orders, and the use of tablet devices (which improved add-on sales and table turns), with remodeling efforts potentially becoming a more meaningful catalyst in future quarters." (Morningstar Equity Research, 12-September-2014)

"Although early, we believe Olive Garden initiatives have the brand on the right track."
(Piper Jaffray & Co., 02-September-2014)

"Although we remain cautious, we believe fundamental improvement at Olive Garden (~60% of the "New Darden" revenue) can occur slowly with a shift to digital/targeted marketing, reinvestment in food value, and reimaging, all of which appear to be in progress under the new strategic plan." (RBC Capital Markets 23-June-2014)

"Looking ahead to FY15, management is planning to remodel 75 Olive Garden restaurants in an effort to improve the brand. Management indicated that same-store sales at the ~300 Olive Garden units in need of remodeling are over 200 bps below the system average. We note that historically, when brands in casual dining remodel restaurants, the same-store sales lift tends to be 3.0%-5.0%. Furthermore, management is planning to introduce Ziosk tabletop tablets to its Olive Garden restaurants in FY15. We believe the tablets could help improve the average guest check while eventually reducing the front of the house labor expense."
(Telsey Advisory Group, 23-June-2014)

"Olive Garden comps have been flat since the end of May (outpacing casual dining industry averages) and suggest that strategic initiatives are gaining traction."
(Morningstar Equity Research, 20-June-2014)

…developing LongHorn Steakhouse®…

"Longhorn (~22% of revs) performing well. Comps were +2.8%, and operating profits and margins both expanded. This is impressive given beef pressure is driving above-average food cost inflation. (Oppenheimer, 12-September-2014)

"Longhorn posted a healthy +2.4% rise in SSS, which marked the 16th quarter of positive comps of the last 18. Though unit growth will slow somewhat as the Company reassesses its capital plans, we continue to believe the brand has the ability to continue to grow its footprint at a MSD or greater rate and comparable sales at a LSD rate for the foreseeable future."
(Stephens, 23-June-2014)

"Given what we see as continued strength in the mid-scale steakhouse category, as well as DRI's efforts to carve out a niche within the category (i.e., flavor innovation), we think comps will trend closer to +3%. So far in June, comps were running at a +3% pace."
(Miller Tabak + Co., LLC, 20-June-2014)

…building on the solid performance at the Specialty Restaurants, which include Bahama Breeze®, Seasons 52®, The Capital Grille®, Eddie V's® and Yard House®…

"Specialty Restaurant Group possesses significant growth potential…good returns on capital and significant expansion potential for all of the brands (which should help to increase brand awareness and sales volume over time) continues to justify growing this segment at a rate faster than the other brands." (Robert W. Baird, 12-September-2014)

"The SRG piece of the business remains healthy with comps likely in the +LSD territory. Looking forward to the completion of the Red Lobster sale in late July, we see an ability for the SRG concepts to deliver a relatively larger impact to the consolidated business going forward." (Piper Jaffary & Co., 30-June-2014)

"Specialty Restaurant Group: we anticipate positive business spending and demographic trends contributing to solid comp growth. We argue SRG is well situated to take advantage of positive trends in casual dining and fine dining." (Miller Tabak + Co., LLC, 20-June-2014)

…optimizing Darden's cost structure…

"Management has taken steps to strengthen its business model and create shareholder value, including the sale of the Red Lobster to private-equity firm Golden Gate Capital, a 'brand renaissance' for Olive has also prioritized operating cost reductions, tying management compensation to same-store sales and profitability metrics, and maintaining its dividend and investment-grade credit rating. Overall, we view these initiatives as sensible and believe they could enhance intangible assets across the company's brand portfolio while aligning operating costs with peers." (Morningstar Equity Research, 08-July-2014)

"F14 was a challenging year for Darden, though we believe productive. As we begin F15, from a fundamental perspective, the volatile Red Lobster (RL) has been removed, the anchor Olive Garden (OG) has launched a 'Brand Renaissance', and cost optimization is a top priority." (Barclays Bank PLC, 23-June-2014)

"DRI cost-cutting program still on pace. DRI expects G&A of 5% in F14 and F15, but we suspect Alvarez & Marsal engagement will lead to more G&A cuts. To date, DRI has identified ~$60mln of cost savings, of which $17mln will be realized in F14 and $28mln in F15. We estimate $40mln to $45mln of G&A savings at new DRI, or 65bps to 70bps of lower G&A to be fully realized by F16. We estimate new DRI SG&A of 8.9% in F14 and 8.8% in F15, versus the 5.5% to 8.5% range for casual dining peers." (Susquehanna Financial Group, LLP, 19-May-2014)

…and modifying Darden's executive compensation and incentive programs.

"We are also heartened by a clear effort at the top to realign management's incentive comp with same-store sales growth, perhaps the most important metric by which restaurant performance is measured. […] All in all, we think the new compensation structure is a solid move that should assuage concern about executive priorities and allegiances." (CLSA Americas, 15-September-2014)

"Senior management's compensation/incentive programs are being refined to focus on same-store sales growth and the generation of free cash flows. We believe this is positive as incentives should be more aligned with those of shareholders." (Sterne Agee, 19-December-2013)

"Darden has made the strategic decision to realign management compensation to be more correlated with comp growth and free cash growth, versus sales and EPS growth previously. Comp growth correlation will hold management accountable for near-term performance while free cash flow growth over time will align compensation with the long-term success of the portfolio." (Barclays, 19-December-2013)

"we applaud management's recognition of the need for increased brand focus, changes to compensation, and overarching prioritization of FCF return vs. growth in what is now a mature industry" (J.P. Morgan, 20-December-2013)

Darden's strategic plan is designed to address changed industry and consumer dynamics. Improved performance and value creation are expected to be driven by improved operating results over time, not financial engineering…

"Although some of these [Starboard's] strategies may help enhance shorter-term returns and aid investor sentiment, we continue to believe the best way to create long-term shareholder value is to strengthen Olive Garden brand fundamentals, as opposed to financially reengineering the company."  (Robert W. Baird & Co., 12-September-2014)

"we would question the longer-term viability of eliminating some of the guest-facing attributes that help to differentiate the brand. We fear that emphasis on cutting food/labor costs could lead to a more commodity-like offering (an approach that is becoming increasingly common among mature casual dining concepts, which appear to be losing share) and leave Olive Garden vulnerable to competitors that provide a more differentiated customer experience."
(Robert W. Baird & Co., 12-September-2014)

"Darden's success is really dependent on Olive Garden's success."
(Mark Kalinowski of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Orlando Sentinel, 02-July-2014)

"We still believe the path to creating long-term shareholder value lies within DRI's ability to drive better core operating performance for remaining brands (particularly Olive Garden), as opposed to financially reengineering the company." (Robert W. Baird & Co., 22-May-2014)

"Despite ongoing challenging fundamentals, we rate shares of Darden Restaurants (DRI) a Buy due to: (1) the attractive dividend yield, and (2) possibilities for unlocking shareholder value – the largest opportunity of which is, in our view, more effective and efficient management of the company's Olive Garden business." (Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, 16-May-2014)

…including a break-up or spinning-off or selling Darden's real-estate.

"While the [Starboard] plan is extremely detailed, at first glance many of Starboard's assumptions—particularly those around the creation of a REIT—appear aggressive, in our view."
(RBC Capital Markets, 12-September-14)

"In our conversations with investors, we believe there was growing skepticism that a REIT transaction could truly live up to its value-creation billing. There was meaningful disagreement on key factors, including expected REIT valuation multiples (single tenant risk, non-investment grade tenant and ground lease discounts) and potential breakage costs on DRI's existing debt." (Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, 16-May-2014)

"We agree a REIT spin would likely not garner the same multiple as other REITs. We believe the fact that the REIT would be a single-tenant REIT with high alternate use costs and generally unfavorable casual dining dynamics would result in it trading at a discount."
(Susquehanna Financial Group, 19-March-2014)

"If you spin off [the profitable] Olive Garden, how do you finance growth of the growing concepts?"
(John Gordon of the Pacific Management Consulting Group, New York Post, 23-December-2013)

"We see limited upside specifically from a Darden break-up: Our sum of- the-parts analysis suggests Darden's stock price has approached fair value following the recent $6.00/share increase, implying that cost cutting largely would offset any dyssynergies from a breakup of the company. We believe other quick upside ideas (e.g., REIT) are less promising since they effectively increase financial leverage and constrain operational flexibility."
(RBC Capital Markets 07-November-2013)

We urge shareholders to vote ONLY on the BLUE proxy card "FOR ALL" of Darden's highly qualified, experienced and independent director nominees:  Michael W. Barnes, Gregory L. Burns, Jeffrey H. Fox, Christopher J. Fraleigh, Steve Odland, Michael D. Rose, Maria A. Sastre and Enrique Silva.  Shareholders may vote by mail, phone or internet following the instructions on the BLUE proxy card.  

CAUTION: Any vote on the white card is a vote for Starboard's control slate as it could revoke any previous proxy you submitted using the BLUE proxy card. Only your latest-dated proxy counts. We urge shareholders – DO NOT SIGN OR RETURN ANY WHITE CARD. SIMPLY DISCARD IT.

Innisfree M&A Incorporated is serving as the Company's proxy solicitor and can be contacted toll-free at (877) 825-8631.

About Darden Restaurants

Darden Restaurants, Inc., (NYSE: DRI), owns and operates more than 1,500 restaurants that generate approximately $6.3 billion in annual sales. Headquartered in Orlando, Fla., and employing 150,000 people, Darden is recognized for a culture that rewards caring for and responding to people. In 2014, Darden was named to the FORTUNE "100 Best Companies to Work For" list for the fourth year in a row. Our restaurant brands – Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille, Eddie V's and Yard House – reflect the rich diversity of those who dine with us. Our brands are built on deep insights into what our guests want. For more information, please visit www.darden.com.

Information About Forward-Looking Statements

Forward-looking statements in this communication regarding our ability to improve performance across our brands and enhance shareholder value and all other statements that are not historical facts, including without limitation statements concerning our future economic performance, plans or objectives and expectations regarding the sale of Red Lobster, benefits to Darden and its shareholders from such sale and related matters, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Any forward-looking statements speak only as of the date on which such statements are made, and we undertake no obligation to update such statements to reflect events or circumstances arising after such date except as required by law. We wish to caution investors not to place undue reliance on any such forward-looking statements. By their nature, forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to materially differ from those anticipated in the statements. The most significant of these uncertainties are described in Darden's Form 10-K, Form 10-Q and Form 8-K reports (including all amendments to those reports). These risks and uncertainties include the ability to achieve Darden's strategic plan to enhance shareholder value including realizing the expected benefits from the sale of Red Lobster, actions of activist investors and the cost and disruption of responding to those actions, including any proxy contest for the election of directors at our annual meeting, food safety and food-borne illness concerns, litigation, unfavorable publicity, risks relating to public policy changes and federal, state and local regulation of our business including health care reform, labor and insurance costs, technology failures, failure to execute a business continuity plan following a disaster, health concerns including virus outbreaks, intense competition, failure to drive sales growth, our plans to expand our smaller brands Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Eddie V's, a lack of suitable new restaurant locations, higher-than-anticipated costs to open, close, relocate or remodel restaurants, a failure to execute innovative marketing tactics and increased advertising and marketing costs, a failure to develop and recruit effective leaders, a failure to address cost pressures, shortages or interruptions in the delivery of food and other products, adverse weather conditions and natural disasters, volatility in the market value of derivatives, economic factors specific to the restaurant industry and general macroeconomic factors including unemployment and interest rates, disruptions in the financial markets, risks of doing business with franchisees and vendors in foreign markets, failure to protect our service marks or other intellectual property, impairment in the carrying value of our goodwill or other intangible assets, a failure of our internal controls over financial reporting, or changes in accounting standards, an inability or failure to manage the accelerated impact of social media and other factors and uncertainties discussed from time to time in reports filed by Darden with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

[1] Permission to use the following quotations was neither sought nor obtained. Underlines added.


Contacts:


(Analysts) Matthew Stroud

(407) 245-5288

(Media) Bob McAdam

(407) 245-5404



SOURCE Darden Restaurants, Inc.