Winning the Fight Against COVID-19
We continue to make progress in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 60% of all adults in the United States have received at least one vaccine dose and approximately 45% are fully vaccinated. This has helped lead to a dramatic decrease in cases and, more importantly, hospitalizations and deaths — proving that the vaccines are safe and highly effective.
Just yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) updated its guidance to say that anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities without masks or physical distancing. As CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said, “If you are fully vaccinated, you are protected, and you can start doing the things that you stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
The leadership team is working to understand the best way to align our policies and procedures to reflect the new guidance from the CDC — both in our restaurants and at the support center. Additionally, our Government Relations, Legal and Total Quality teams will determine if and how this new CDC guidance will influence current state and local regulations. The rules and regulations that have been in place for over a year are evolving very quickly — at every level of government. We expect to have an update to our COVID-19 policies and commitments early next week and will communicate those changes as soon as they are final.
While this is certainly encouraging news, we have not defeated the virus yet. Dr. Walensky also stressed that unvaccinated people remain at risk. That is why I strongly encourage anyone who has not yet been vaccinated to do so. The vaccine is the most effective way for you to protect yourself and for us to continue to create a safe environment for our guests and team members, and end this pandemic.
We will give you the support and flexibility you need to schedule your appointments. Our hourly restaurant team members can take advantage of our COVID-19 Vaccine Pay — even if the appointment does not conflict with your work schedule. The CDC has launched a Vaccine Finder to help you find the closest available appointment, and additional information and resources are also available on the CDC COVID-19 Vaccine website.
I am grateful to be fully vaccinated, and I hope you will join me so that we can fully prevail in the fight against this virus and finally return to a sense of normalcy.
An Update On Our Business
This morning we released our third quarter earnings for Fiscal 2021.
It is hard to believe that it has been a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began to significantly impact our business. The strategy we developed six years ago — focused on executing our Back-to-Basics operating philosophy and strengthening our four competitive advantages — has provided a strong foundation to help us navigate this period of unprecedented change and uncertainty. During this time, our results-oriented culture has played an outsized role in helping ensure not only our survival, but our ability to emerge stronger. And that is why we have continued to invest in supporting you this past year.
Investing In Our Greatest Competitive Advantage
We know our team members are our greatest competitive advantage. Since March 2020, we have invested more than $200 million in programs benefiting team members such as Paid Sick Leave, COVID-19 Emergency Pay, $10/day additional pay to help cover transportation and other costs, as well as covering benefits deductions for team members who were furloughed when dining rooms were closed. These investments also include our recent decision to provide up to four hours of paid time off (PTO) to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Today, I am proud to announce two new hourly restaurant team member investments. First, we are investing approximately $17 million to provide a one-time bonus for nearly 90,000 hourly restaurant team members in recognition of your hard work and dedication. Eligible team members must have worked a minimum of 130 hours during the third quarter (Nov. 30, 2020-Feb. 28, 2021) and bonus amounts will range from $100-$300 depending on average weekly hours over the 13-week period.
Second, continuing to attract and retain the best talent in the industry will be critical to our success. And while we are proud that, on average, our hourly restaurant team members earn more than $17 per hour today, I am excited to share that beginning Monday, March 29, every hourly restaurant team member will earn at least $10 per hour, which includes tip income. Additionally, we are committed to increasing this to $11 an hour in January 2022 and $12 an hour in January 2023.
These investments are the right thing to do to take care of our team members, and we will continue to look for ways to strengthen our industry-leading employment proposition.
Reaffirming Our Commitment to Inclusion & Diversity
I want to take this opportunity acknowledge the pain and anxiety our Asian American and Pacific Islander team members are experiencing. The animosity and violence targeting their community, including the tragic shootings in Atlanta last week, is wrong and unacceptable. There is no place for hatred in our society or at Darden.
I am proud that our company was founded on the belief that everyone is welcome in our restaurants. In the wake of racial injustice, we have shown that Darden is a place that includes everyone, supports everyone and protects everyone. We must continue to be an ally for each other. If we hold true to these values and are willing to learn and grow, we all can help create racial equality in this country starting within the walls of our restaurants and our support center.
Confidently Looking Ahead
Finally, while the pandemic is not over, I am encouraged by the pace of vaccinations we are seeing across the country, including team members who are taking advantage of our PTO offer to get vaccinated. Each week, access is becoming more widely available, and I encourage you to strongly consider getting vaccinated. The vaccine is a critical tool in helping end the pandemic and welcoming more guests and team members back into our restaurants.
As we continue to increase capacity, it is more important than ever to focus on the basics of running great restaurants. Ensuring we deliver great food and excellent service in a welcoming atmosphere will be key to our continued success and our ability to grow share.
After all we have been through, our winning strategy, combined with your resilience and passion, has allowed Darden and our brands to emerge stronger. On behalf of the management team, I thank you for your commitment to delivering exceptional guest experiences in our dining rooms and through curbside ToGo. You are the heart and soul of our company, and we are extremely grateful to you.
COVID–19 Vaccine Update
Throughout the pandemic, we have remained committed to putting the health and safety of our team members and guests first. This is, and always will be, our top priority.
The COVID–19 vaccine will be a critical tool in helping end this pandemic, which will allow us to welcome more guests and team members back into our restaurants. We recognize getting vaccinated is a personal decision that you alone can make. While we will not require hourly team members to be vaccinated as a condition of employment, we strongly encourage you consider getting vaccinated.
To ensure that our team members who want the vaccine do not have to choose between earning income and getting vaccinated, we will provide all hourly restaurant team members up to four hours of paid time off for the purpose of receiving the COVID–19 vaccine. For our restaurant managers, we will ensure scheduling flexibility for those who choose to get vaccinated.
We continue to encourage you to access information from your local and state health departments concerning when vaccines will be available for frontline restaurant workers in your community.
Paid Time Off for COVID–19 Vaccine
We will provide a total of two hours of pay for each dose of the vaccine – up to four hours of total pay for complete vaccination.
- The pay rate will be based on the team member’s total earnings, including tips, over the most recent 13 weeks – with a maximum pay rate of $20.
- If a team member has not worked for the past 13 weeks, their hourly rate of pay will be based on their Primary job, but no less than their state or local minimum wage rate.
- Team members will simply need to provide proof of vaccination to their managers in order to receive their pay.
Information about the COVID–19 Vaccine
Keep in mind, the vaccination process will vary by state. While foodservice workers are prioritized as part of the next phase – 1c – there are no set dates for when that phase will begin. That is why it is important to stay informed through credible local news sources and your county or city health department websites for the most accurate and up to date information. We also recommend visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID–19 Vaccine website for more information about the vaccine.
Continue to Follow Our Safety Protocols
While the vaccine is a critical step toward ending the pandemic, we must continue to do what we know helps prevent the spread of COVID–19 – most importantly, wearing masks. We will also continue to follow all CDC–recommended safety protocols to ensure the health and safety of our team members and guests, as follows:
- Healthy Team Members | We will continue conducting daily temperature checks of every team member and exclude team members from work who have received a positive diagnosis and/or deemed to have been in close contact with a positive COVID–19 case. In addition, every team member is required to wear a mask.
- Clean Restaurants | We will continue disinfecting every table after each visit as well as deep cleaning our restaurants daily.
- Social Distancing | Our dining rooms will remain configured to create more space between tables.
- Frequent Handwashing | We also have hand sanitizers stationed in every restaurant.
Thank you for your ongoing commitment to the health and safety of our guests and each other.
An Update On Our Business
The change that we have faced this year has been unrelenting, and the pace of change has once again increased over the last several weeks. This morning we released our second quarter earnings for Fiscal 2020. Though we achieved solid results given the current environment, our results are still significantly underperforming where we were a year ago. Additionally, we are in the middle of a new surge of COVID-19 cases that is challenging our ability to operate many of our dining rooms.
With this change brings the reality that we are unable to offer even more of our restaurant team members the hours they would like and deserve. I am proud that we reintroduced our Emergency Pay Program to provide three weeks of emergency pay for team members furloughed when indoor dining rooms are reclosed. And though we are also supporting these valuable team members by helping them maintain their healthcare benefits, I recognize that these programs will not solve all the challenges they will face.
It has been reported that members of Congress are nearing agreement on another COVID-19 relief package that may include direct payments to taxpayers and expanded unemployment benefits. Given the progress made this week, I am hopeful that legislation that provides much needed relief to individuals and small businesses will become law in the next few days. When we know more, we will let you know how you and your family will be impacted.
As unrelenting as the change has been, the pace of innovation and strength of the human spirit has been relentless in providing hope for a better tomorrow. I am extremely encouraged by the progress scientists have made with the development and rollout of a vaccine. Similarly, I am encouraged by our unwavering ability to adapt as we continue to fortify our business. I remain optimistic about the future of Darden and the restaurant industry. Because of the great work you have done prior to and throughout the pandemic, I am confident that our guests will return with greater frequency to our restaurants when all our dining rooms open without any capacity restraints. It is from this position of strength that we are making the following announcements.
This morning we announced senior organizational changes that included the Board electing me to serve as Chairman in addition to my role as Chief Executive Officer. I am honored to serve in this capacity and look forward to continuing to work closely with our previous Chairman, Chuck Sonsteby, in his new role as Lead Independent Director.
Additionally, Rick Cardenas has been named President & Chief Operating Officer. Rick will have responsibility for all restaurant operations as well as Supply Chain, Development, Franchising & International and Consumer Insights. Finally, Raj Vennam has been named SVP, Chief Financial Officer. Raj will assume responsibility for accounting, corporate reporting, corporate tax and IT. Retaining his responsibilities from his most recent role as SVP, Treasurer, he will continue to be responsible for corporate finance, treasury, investor relations and business analytics. These organizational changes reflect our intention to provide Rick and Raj a diversity of experience while creating growth opportunities for them.
As we move forward into a new year, we continue to believe that our service extends beyond our restaurants and into the communities we serve. That is why I am proud to announce that the Darden Foundation recently provided grants to make a positive impact in communities of color. In our ongoing effort to fight hunger, the Darden Foundation donated $500,000 to Feeding America to help local food banks expand mobile food pantry programs. The level of food insecurity has grown because of the pandemic, and communities of color have been disproportionately impacted. This grant is in addition to the $2 million grant the Foundation provided to Feeding America earlier this year, and will help increase access to nutritious food for those who need it most.
Additionally, the Darden Foundation donated $500,000 to The Boys & Girls Clubs of America to develop training that will help youth of all ages better understand diversity and combat racial discrimination.
We are proud to partner with these organizations and support the important work they do. These programs bring to life our deeply held commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we look forward to sharing more information about them with you soon.
I will close my final business update of 2020 by expressing my heartfelt gratitude and admiration for everything you have done to take care of our guests and each other this year. In a holiday season that will feel like none other, I hope you enjoy spending time — even if it is virtual — with family and friends. Cheers to a new year that will be filled with promise and opportunity!
An Update On Our Business
This week traditionally begins the busiest time of year for our restaurants but like so many other moments during the last eight months, this too will look and feel different. State and local officials have begun to implement curfews, restrict capacity and, in some cases, close dining rooms again.
While we have been here before and understand how to operate our restaurants in an ever-changing environment, the reality of the situation is that, again, many of our hourly team members will not be scheduled for shifts during this holiday season. Therefore, we have decided to reintroduce our Emergency Pay Program and provide three weeks of emergency pay for team members furloughed from restaurants when indoor dining rooms are reclosed. The first week of wages will be paid on December 4th.
With news of two highly-effective vaccines close to final FDA approval, I am optimistic that we will soon return to a time where we can gather safely with family and friends. In the meantime, we will continue to deliver great experiences for our guests wherever they choose to enjoy our food. As long as we remain focused on that, I am confident that Darden will emerge stronger than ever.
Even though the Thanksgiving holiday will be different this year, it is still important to reflect on all there is for which to be thankful — and that starts with all of you. I remain extremely grateful to be part of this amazing team. Your focus, commitment and determination continues to inspire and humble me. Thank you for relentlessly serving your community by providing the comfort of an exceptional meal. Thank you for going to extraordinary lengths to take care of our guests and each other.
On behalf of the Executive Team, I wish you and your families a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.
An Update On Our Business
“How do you feel about the business?”
Whether I am dining in one of our restaurants, walking down Main Street at the Support Center or talking to other business leaders, I am continually asked this question. The answer has been complicated because of all the adversity we have faced over the past several months.
It has been a long and challenging journey for all of us. A year ago, we were planning for fiscal year 2021 with ambitious sales and growth targets. We were planning to open numerous new restaurants and provide new opportunities to thousands of our team members. Six months ago, our dining rooms were closed and we were forced to furlough our team members. Ninety days ago, our business had stabilized, and we were welcoming more of our guests and team members back into our dining rooms.
This morning, we issued our first quarter results and held an earnings call. Though we are still significantly underperforming compared to last year, we exceeded our earnings expectations for the quarter. This was largely driven by our laser focus on being brilliant with the basics and the work we have done to strengthen our business model.
Being Brilliant With the Basics
Running restaurants has never been more challenging, due in large part to added safety precautions and market-by-market capacity restrictions. No matter the challenges, we have risen to meet them as a team.
Our restaurant teams continue to keep our guests and team members safe. They are practicing our enhanced safety protocols and maintaining social distancing within our reconfigured dining rooms to create a safe, welcoming environment.
We also adapted to create great experiences for our guests — whether they dine in our dining rooms, outdoors on our patios or in their homes. Our streamlined menus and improved processes have allowed our restaurant teams to execute more consistently. The high level of flexibility, creativity and passion from these teams is driving a new level of performance that is reflected in our guest satisfaction metrics.
We are also continuing to invest in and implement technology that improves convenience for our guests. This includes providing multiple ways to order inside and outside the restaurant across our digital storefronts. Additionally, we are also deploying mobile solutions to make it easier for our guests to let us know when they have arrived to dine in or pick up a Curbside To Go order. Finally, we are also expanding mobile payment options.
Strengthening Our Business Model
In this environment, simply executing better is not enough, which is why we have also been focused on strengthening our business model. We made the strategic decision to adjust our cost structure in order to generate positive cash flows, while making the appropriate investments in our businesses. For example, our simplified menus are creating efficiencies in food waste and labor productivity. Additionally, due to capacity restrictions, we significantly reduced marketing and promotional spending along with other incentives we have historically used to drive sales. Finally, as you know, we have rightsized the structure of our teams to best support the business as it exists today.
The result of all these efforts can be seen in the fact that our earnings after taxes for the quarter was $37 million. The progress we have made gave us the confidence to repay the $270 million term loan we took out in April and reinstate a quarterly dividend. More importantly, this work creates a stronger foundation for us to build on as consumer trends improve and the economy normalizes.
Serving with Purpose
Even though we have been focused on running great restaurants and strengthening our business, I am incredibly proud that we continue to be a positive force in the communities we serve. We recognize that when communities thrive, businesses and individuals do too.
That is why each day, every one of our resturants is still giving back to those hit hardest in our communities by participating in our Harvest program, which donates wholesome, surplus food to local nonprofit partners. In fiscal 2020, the Darden Foundaton donated $2 million to Feeding America and our brands donated more than 6.3 million pounds of food, the equivalent of more than five million meals.
We are also commited to addressing issues affecting communities of color. That is why the Darden Foundation is working closely with long-term partners such as Feeding America and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to expand our outreach and impact in communities of color. We will provide more detail about our efforts after the Foundation Board meets in November.
Confidently Looking Forward
I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished. We are succeeding thanks to your hard work and resilience. Every one of you have worked tirelessly to ensure we have the ability to grow and once again provide opportunities to our team members.
Because of you, today when I am asked … “How do you feel about the business?” … the answer is simple. I am confident because we continue to do things the right way.
We are living our values every day. Taking care of our guests and each other continues to be our number one priority. In the face of extreme complexity, we find ways to simplify. We remain disciplined — driving profitable sales and strengthening our business model. And we continue to make the right investments to ensure we will be stronger tomorrow than we are today.
We have the right strategy, the right brands and — most importantly — the right people. You continue to be our greatest competitive advantage. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to our guests, our shareholders and each other.
An Update On Our Business
This morning we held our fourth quarter earnings call. Rick and I were proud to share with the analyst and investor community all of the amazing work you have been doing during the past 14 weeks. We talked about the innovation, flexibility and passion our restaurant and support center teams have displayed in the face of unprecedented challenges and we told them that the commitment each of you have for the business, our guests and each other will enable each brand to emerge stronger than before and give Darden the opportunity to continue to grow.
We also shared that our business has stabilized. As our dining rooms have reopened, we have begun generating positive operating cash flow. We have approximately $750 million of cash on hand and access to our $750 million credit facility if we need it. Additionally, as of Monday, more than 90 percent of our dining rooms have reopened with at least limited capacity and more than 100,000 team members are working across Darden to deliver great guest experiences.
Unfortunately, not all of the news was positive. To say the fourth quarter was a difficult one is clearly an understatement. Darden lost $480 million during the quarter — total sales decreased 43 percent to $1.27 billion and same-restaurant sales decreased 47.7 percent. For fiscal 2020, total sales decreased 8.3 percent to $7.81 billion driven by negative same-restaurant sales of 11 percent. And though I expect business to consistently improve over the summer, we are still faced with an uncertain and challenging environment.
However, I remain optimistic.
We are part of a resilient industry. The full-service dining industry plays a vital role in our communities, and that was evident in how consumers relied on restaurants over the last several months — even in a ToGo-only environment. And while off premise will continue to play an important role as we recover, we know that consumers still want to enjoy an in-restaurant experience. In fact, going out to a restaurant with friends and family is the number one activity consumers say they look forward to doing as the economy opens back up — and we’ve seen that as our dining rooms reopen across the country.
As our vital industry continues to rebuild, there is tremendous opportunity to increase market share through increased on-premise demand and incremental off-premise sales. Those executing at the highest level are going to win, and we are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunity.
We have the right strategy. I am more convinced today than ever before that the strategy we developed five years ago — grounded in our back-to-basics operating philosophy, leveraging our four competitive advantages, and cultivating a portfolio of iconic brands — is still the right one today.
We have strong brands with loyal guests because we have been focused on earning their trust. Being brilliant with the basics by consistently delivering exceptional food, service and atmosphere has been our rallying cry, and will continue to be imperative going forward. And throughout this unprecedented time, we continue to benefit greatly from our four competitive advantages of Significant Scale, Extensive Data & Insights, Rigorous Strategic Planning and our Results-Oriented Culture.
As our guests return to our dining rooms, we must meet them with the exceptional service they have come to expect in a welcoming environment that they have missed, all while continuing to adhere to our health and safety procedures. It is more important than ever to double down on our back-to-basics operating philosophy and our four competitive advantages.
We have a winning culture. As you have heard me say many times, our people are our greatest competitive advantage. Having a strong culture has been part of our DNA since we were founded. Even as challenging as the last several months have been, we were able to keep the majority of our managers employed and stay connected with our furloughed hourly team members. This allowed us to bring our people back quickly and get our dining rooms opened safely — without any delays.
I am incredibly proud that our culture has strengthened during the most difficult period in our company’s history. This — above all else — is what gives me confidence in our future. So thank you to all of you — those currently working and those who remain on furlough. Your commitment has been truly inspiring. We still have a long road ahead, but I remain confident that we are well positioned to emerge from this stronger than before.
Finally, this morning we announced that Dave George will be retiring on August 2nd. Dave will celebrate his 65th birthday later this year and he and I have been discussing this transition for some time.
Dave has been successful in every one of his leadership positions in the restaurant industry. He had tremendous success leading three of Darden’s brands — The Capital Grille, LongHorn Steakhouse and Olive Garden. During his time as Chief Operating Officer, we have worked side by side leading this organization during successful and challenging moments. His positive approach and leadership style is legendary and permeates throughout the organization.
Throughout his career, Dave has built great teams and serves as a mentor to many operators and executives. I know many of you will want an opportunity to thank Dave for his leadership and friendship. There will be many opportunities to celebrate Dave and all he has contributed to the success of Darden — including at our 2021 GM/MP Leadership Conference. In the meantime, I know all of you will join me in congratulating Dave for an amazing career!
An Update On Our Business
Over the past five years, we have worked to strengthen our four competitive advantages of significant scale, extensive data and insights, rigorous strategic planning and a results-oriented culture. We have leveraged these advantages to consistently outperform our competition. And, during the last several weeks, we have continued to lean on them to help us navigate this unpredictable environment. During this time, it has become obvious that the cornerstone of our organization is our culture.
It was our culture that helped us regain our footing when our dining rooms were closed across the country and we needed to transition to a To Go only business. It was our culture that bonded us together as we worked to stabilize our business and reimagined what it meant to deliver exceptional guest experiences. It was our culture that made everyone more nimble, resilient and innovative as we discovered new ways to support each other and get through this, together.
And it is our strong culture that continues to guide us … as we welcome team members back into the restaurants … guests back into our dining rooms … and our support team back to the Restaurant Support Center.
This past weekend we provided our guests with the chance to celebrate Mother’s Day with the brands they know, love and miss. We saw incredibly high demand, which exceeded even our expectations. I am immensely grateful for our restaurant teams’ tireless efforts to fulfill the orders we received. We know that we did not consistently deliver the level of service our guests expect from us, and we are working hard to reach out to them and earn their trust back.
This week more of our dining rooms will open and we will continue to welcome guests back into our restaurants. I am pleased that we are able to return some hourly team members from furlough to support these phased openings. Early signs show that our loyal guests are grateful for the opportunity to dine-in with us, and they appreciate the added safety measures we have implemented. At the same time, our To Go business remains strong across all markets. I am grateful for everyone’s hard work and dedication to upholding the commitments we have made to keep our guests and each other healthy.
Throughout all we have been through, our support center team continued to play a critical role in our success. While stay-at-home orders were in effect, this team provided the same level of support while working remotely. Now that these orders have been lifted, we are prepared to safely and responsibly bring team members back into the RSC.
While we are seeing positive signs, and I remain optimistic about our business, we cannot lose sight of the fact that we continue to operate at a significant financial loss. This will continue to be the case as long as our dining rooms are operating at a limited capacity. Our resiliency will continue to be tested for weeks, months and beyond. However, coming back together — whether in our restaurants or at the support center — will only strengthen our resolve and our culture. And though the environment and circumstances in which we work will continue to evolve, the passion and pride of the people who make our culture a competitive advantage will never change.
Thank you for bringing our culture to life every day … and for making our restaurants and our support center a special place to work.
An Update On Our Business
In the face of tremendous uncertainty over the last several weeks, we have had to make significant changes to how we operate our business. However, no matter the challenge, we have successfully navigated this situation by staying true to a consistent approach.
We have been taking it day by day to ensure we are making the best decisions possible. We have kept the health and safety of our team members and guests our number one priority. We have remained committed to taking care of our team members, even as the decisions we have had to make became more difficult. And we have consistently upheld our commitment to our guests by providing exceptional dining experiences — even if those experiences take place in their dining rooms instead of ours.
Last week, we began to reopen our dining rooms and, as of today, more than 625 restaurants across 15 states are operating their dining rooms with limited capacity. This is an important first step as it gives us the opportunity to bring some furloughed team members back to work, while giving our guests the option to dine with us. Thank you to each of our team members who are working so hard to make this transition possible. As we navigate this next phase of our journey, we will continue to stay true to our approach.
We have a dedicated team of experts who are in close contact with state and local officials, and monitoring the latest information from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), to inform our decisions. We will continue to follow best practices as we uphold our exceptionally high standards. When our guests visit us, they can expect …
// Healthy Team Members | We are conducting daily temperature checks of every team member
// Clean Restaurants | We are disinfecting every table after each visit as well as deep cleaning our restaurants daily
// Social Distancing | Our dining rooms are reconfigured to create more space between tables
// Protective Equipment | Every team member is required to wear a mask
// Frequent Handwashing | We also have hand sanitizers stationed in every restaurant
While I am confident in the steps we are taking, the reality is that we cannot do it alone. We need our guests’ help. That is why we are asking them to …
// Plan Ahead with reservations and web-ahead seating where available
// Not Congregate in our lobbies or bars
// Give Fellow Guests Their Space — at least six feet
// Wear a Mask when not at their table
// Utilize Mobile Pay and table-top tablets where available
Together, we can keep each other healthy.
The journey to fully reopening our restaurants will be long. We do not know when we will be able to return to full dining rooms across the country, nor do we know what demand will ultimately be.
However, we do know that we have the right policies and procedures in place — we are ready to safely serve guests in our dining rooms once again. We will continue to actively monitor all new information from the CDC, and state and local officials, and will take the necessary steps to protect the health and safety of our team members and guests.
Thank you for your continued dedication to support the communities we serve.
An Update On Our Business
Over the last several weeks, we have had to reimagine what it means to deliver exceptional dining experiences. Our restaurant and support center teams have been working around the clock to ensure that we continue to live up to our commitment to our guests. And the results speak for themselves.
Yesterday we provided an update on our business, reporting that we have collectively tripled our To Go sales since we closed our dining rooms on March 20th. All of our brands have successfully grown their To Go business in this environment. Specifically, Olive Garden’s already strong off-premise sales have nearly tripled over the past two weeks, while LongHorn Steakhouse has quadrupled its To Go sales. All of our brand teams continue to work extremely hard to deliver exceptional To Go experiences to our guests. I am proud of their ability to adapt and their dedication to produce results that consistently outperform our expectations. It is an honor to lead this strong, resilient organization.
While I am encouraged by our sales momentum, the reality of our situation is that we are still operating at a significant cash loss. That is why we also announced an equity offering that will provide us additional cash. This action will help us successfully navigate this situation so we can get our team members back to work as our dining rooms reopen. It will also provide us with the necessary flexibility to strengthen our competitive advantages of scale, data and insights, strategic planning and results-oriented culture as we emerge from this situation.
Fighting Hunger in Our Communities
Beyond being open for guests when they need us most, we continue to play an important role in the communities we serve. During this difficult time for so many, I am proud that all of our open restaurants are still able to participate in our Harvest program — harvesting surplus, wholesome food from our restaurant kitchens and donating it to local nonprofit partners, including food banks and shelters. Additionally, last week the Darden Foundation made a $2 million donation to support Feeding America and its member food banks across all 50 states. For every dollar donated, Feeding America can supply 10 meals to people in need — meaning our financial support helped donate 20 million meals.
Safely Reopening Our Restaurants
Finally, as we prepare for government and public health officials to gradually allow businesses to reopen, we are also focusing our attention on reimagining our in-restaurant dining experiences. Our brand leaders are creating innovative and thorough plans to ensure we are ready to safely welcome our guests back into our dining rooms when they open once again. The tenets of the plans are anchored in our ongoing commitment to protect our team members and guests, and we will provide more details as we get closer to reopening.
The fight is far from over, but as each day passes, I am more confident in our ability to come through this stronger. Though when we do, things will be different. Our dining rooms will look different. Some processes will be different. Our menus may even be different. However, the core of our company will not change.
We will remain dedicated to making every guest a loyal guest. Our competitive advantages will continue to set us apart from everyone else. And, most importantly, our greatest competitive edge will continue to be you. Thank you for your hard work, patience and support as we navigate through a world that is very different from what we have known. We will emerge stronger — together
An Update On Our Business
The last three weeks have been difficult – for our guests, our communities and our families. Our business has changed in ways we never imagined. While we have fought to find a new normal, we cannot ignore the fact that how we serve our guests will be different for longer than we had hoped.
Our brand teams have worked incredibly hard to transition our full-service business to a ToGo and delivery operation. As I said last week, the ingenuity and entrepreneurship has been inspiring to see.
As we continue to evolve, we are taking steps to ensure team members who are working in our restaurants today have what they need to protect themselves and take care of their family. That is why, in addition to the gloves we already provide, we will begin providing masks for team members to wear during their shift. We have also taken steps to procure thermometers that will allow us to take the temperature of team members as they report to work — we expect these to begin arriving in restaurants within the month. Finally, all hourly team members who are still working in our restaurants will receive an extra $10 per day to help cover unexpected costs, such as transportation and child care, incurred as a result of the current situation.
Last week, we also announced that our hourly restaurant team members who were no longer scheduled because our dining rooms are closed would be furloughed until further notice. I know how disruptive and unsettling that news was to so many of our valued team members, but it was a necessary decision to ensure that Darden is able to withstand this crisis.
With our restaurants operating with limited staff and at limited capacity, how we support them must change as well. After many conversations with the executive team, we have decided that beginning Monday, April 13th, some of our team members at the Restaurant Support Center will also be furloughed. These team members will remain active employees and retain their medical benefits, while earning 100 percent of their regular pay for the first week and 50 percent for the next three weeks of their furlough.
At the same time, all remaining RSC team members and senior operations leaders will be taking a pay reduction. Senior executives will be taking a 50 percent reduction as I continue to forego my salary until we are successfully on the other side of this. Brand and functional leaders will speak individually with every impacted team member today to share exactly what this means for them.
While it pains me to make this decision today, I am doing so with every intention of getting you back to work when this is over. In fact, as we grow our off-premise business, we will bring people back to support the increased demand. Darden is in a position to weather this storm. It requires sacrifice from each and every one of us, but it is this shared sacrifice that will make us stronger.
Darden was a pioneer in the restaurant industry. And as the leader in full-service dining with 190,000 team members working across 1,800 restaurants, we have built a winning team. Winning teams are resilient – they rise in the face of adversity. Let me be clear, I am confident in our tomorrow. We are too strong to break … too good to lose … together, we will win again.
An Update On Our Business
I am so proud of how all of our restaurant and support center teams have rallied over the past week. It has been remarkable and inspiring to see the innovation, entrepreneurship and camaraderie during this time of uncertainty. While our operations continue to evolve and adapt, the executive team and I have been navigating this situation guided by our commitment to support our team members and our duty to ensure that Darden is able to withstand this crisis and successfully emerge on the other side.
And while I am heartened by the early success of our ToGo business, our restaurants are operating at a substantial economic loss every day. As our brands focus on expanding this business opportunity, the executive team and I continue to focus on preserving our cash. We are working diligently every day to remove all controllable costs out of the business, we have stopped hiring and we have significantly reduced our marketing spend.
The reality of this situation — with all of our dining rooms closed and sales significantly down — is that we do not have any shifts to give most of our hourly team members. And while this is disappointing, I want to provide you the answers to the questions that are important to you and your family.
Hourly team members who have not been scheduled while our dining rooms are closed, will be furloughed until further notice. If this is you, it is important to note that you will remain an active team member and you will receive Emergency Pay for three weeks, beginning this week. As an active team member, you will keep earning your tenure, which matters when it comes to anniversary pay and paid time off programs. Additionally, you will continue to have access to all of your benefits, including the Work/Life Assistance Program. For those who have chosen to participate in Darden’s major medical insurance plan, we will pay 100 percent of your weekly premium until you are asked back to work.
We are focused on ensuring that when we can safely reopen our dining rooms to our guests, we will be ready. At that time, we will need to staff our restaurants quickly. As a furloughed team member, we will need you to be ready to return to your restaurant within 24 hours of notice.
Finally, there has been a lot of media coverage of the legislative package (CARES Act) that was approved by Congress and signed by the President last week. I wanted to take a moment to explain to you what this may mean for you and your family.
First, the federal government will make direct payments to taxpayers. People who earn less than $75,000 a year will receive a check for $1,200 — $2,400 for married couples who earn less than $150,000 a year, filing jointly — and an additional $500 per child. Government leaders plan to get these checks into the hands of those who qualify by mid-April. If you have used direct deposit when you have filed your taxes, you will get your money faster than if the government needs to mail you a check.
The CARES Act also made significant, positive changes to the unemployment insurance program. The legislation extends unemployment insurance by 13 weeks and added a four month, $600 per week increase over current state benefits. Team members will be eligible for unemployment benefits while they are furloughed, and in some cases, while working reduced hours.
I know that for many of you this is uncharted waters and you have questions that are unique to your situation. That is why we have set up a hotline staffed with RSC team members who are available to help you get the answers you need to make the right decisions for your circumstances.
In moments like these, the resiliency of the Darden family is amazing. If we continue to work together and support each other, we will emerge from this crisis ready to serve.
An Update On Our Business
As you know, over the last week we had to close our dining rooms, which fundamentally changed our business. While this created uncertainty, confusion and complication, all of you responded the way I would expect from the leaders in full-service dining: With passion, poise and a standard of perfection.
I am incredibly proud of how we have managed the significant amount of change. Each one of our brands quickly pivoted to ToGo — coming up with creative offerings and adopting enhanced safety precautions to further protect our team members and guests, including providing no-contact curbside pickup. Our restaurant teams are redefining what it means to deliver exceptional ToGo experiences for our guests. The leadership team continues to react quickly, while our team at the Restaurant Support Center is narrowing their focus to help our restaurants navigate this new reality.
Collectively, we are keeping the spirit of Darden burning bright.
However, the reality of closing our dining rooms means that many of our hourly restaurant team members are not getting the hours they need. We remain committed to supporting all of you, which is why I am pleased to announce that we are extending our Emergency Pay Program, adding a third week of 50 percent pay for our hourly team members who cannot work during this time. In addition, we have increased payout percentage for our least-tenured team members.
We are also actively engaging with leaders in Washington as they craft legislation to help the country deal with this situation. Our goal is to help these leaders understand the uniqueness of our business so the solutions they create will support our workforce.
At the RSC, we are locked in to the needs of the business as it exists today. To that end, we have begun redeploying team members whose roles are temporarily disrupted to help drive our ToGo business across every one of our brands. While people’s workloads may look different, our ability to successfully adapt will not only strengthen our business, it will allow us to provide much needed dining options for the communities we serve.
Additionally, I am encouraging more team members at the RSC to work from home. Social distancing — a phrase that I heard for the first time only a couple weeks ago — remains critically important. As our restaurant teams have demonstrated, redefining how we work just takes commitment and flexibility. I am confident that our teams at the support center will easily adjust to remain engaged, aligned and committed to delivering exceptional support to our restaurants from the safety of their home.
As I wrote last week, there is nothing more comforting than sharing a meal around the table with the ones you love. Thank you for continuing to play an important role in bringing comfort to our guests. Serving people the food they crave to enjoy with the ones they love has always been the spirit of Darden. Together, we will keep it burning bright.
An Update On Our Business
We serve … we serve our guests … we serve our communities … we serve each other. No matter the challenges I’ve faced in my 42-year restaurant career, I’ve always found the right answer when I come back to the fundamental truth: Our entire industry is built on an unwavering commitment to serve.
This challenge is no different. Every day we face an evolving reality, and I ask myself, what does it mean to serve?
Today, that means closing all of our dining rooms that are permitted to remain open at the close of business today.
The health and safety of our guests and team members has always been our first priority. And while we have taken extraordinary measures to keep our restaurants safe, after thoughtful conversations with my executive team, government leaders and many of you, I believe the best way we serve today is by focusing completely on providing our guests the comfort of knowing a home-cooked meal is just a call or click away.
This decision will affect the ability for even more of our restaurant team members to get the hours they need and deserve. Though it will not be enough to make everyone whole, our Emergency Pay Program — specifically designed to support our dedicated, hourly team members — will begin next week.
The situation we are all facing demands that those who can serve, need to continue to do so. For us that means preparing warm, delicious and comforting food to feed the people in the communities we call home. Our supply chain is strong — we have been in discussion with all of our major suppliers, and they are confident that they can continue to supply our restaurants with safe, consistent goods to maintain service to our guests.
Each one of our brands have quickly pivoted to enhance their ToGo offering. Additionally, we are taking enhanced safety precautions to further protect our team members and guests, including providing no-contact and limited-contact curbside pickup.
Finally, the team at the Restaurant Support Center continues to pursue ways to preserve cash. We are determined to get through this so that someday soon, we can get our team members back to work as we welcome our loyal guests into our restaurants once again.
Thank you for your commitment to our guests and each other. And for being part of this industry that is essential to our communities. My confidence in our future is unwavering, even as the decisions I am faced with get more difficult.
An Update On Our Business
Last week I wrote that we will navigate this challenging situation together, one day at a time. And while every day we are hit with a new, sobering reality, we are still in this — together.
I want to start by reminding everyone that our first priority remains the health and safety of our guests and team members. Please be sure that you are taking the time to properly take care of yourself, your family and each other.
This past week, numerous state and local governments created mandates that are designed to protect the public through social distancing. These have dramatically impacted our ability to operate. As of this morning, nearly 80 percent of our restaurants have been closed, had their capacity restricted or have been ordered to only offer ToGo. This has had a direct impact on nearly 150,000 of our restaurant team members.
As we have been navigating this unprecedented situation, the executive team and I are making decisions guided by our commitment to support our team members and our duty to come through this stronger than we entered.
To support our hourly restaurant team members, we introduced Paid Sick Leave last week, and just yesterday, we rolled out an Emergency Pay Program for those impacted by COVID-19. While I am proud of the decisions we have made, I am heartbroken at the realization that this will not be enough as many of our team members are unexpectedly making less money today than they did last month.
In order for us to see this situation through and come back stronger, our focus must be on preserving our cash. To that end, we are deferring nearly all of our capital spending, including opening new restaurants. Additionally, we are securing more than $750 million from our credit facility to shore up our cash balance, resulting in $1 billion on our balance sheet. We also made the decision to suspend our quarterly cash dividend.
Finally, we are significantly reducing non-essential spending. While we have identified opportunities to preserve cash across every brand and department, we need the help and support of each and every member of the Darden family. As a start, effective this week, I am forgoing my salary until we are through this situation.
Even with all these actions, we still must face the reality of our business. We heavily rely on cash coming into our restaurants every day. Given our inability to fully operate our restaurants, we have a finite amount of time before our cash runs out. Even with $1 billion of cash on our balance sheet, this will be reduced significantly as we pay our suppliers for purchases we already made. Additionally, based on our sales today, we are operating with a significant cash loss. And if we face a complete shutdown, we will spend $40-$50 million a week. There is a limit to how long we can operate.
One concern you have likely faced in the last week is the security of your job. Though hours for our restaurant teams have been greatly reduced, we are not at a place today where I have to make these gut-wrenching decisions. However, while the executive team and I are doing everything we can to ensure I never have to, I may soon be faced with making decisions that affect your job. My promise to you is that should this measure need to be taken, it will be one of last resort, and only done to preserve Darden’s future.
I recognize that what I have written here is not enough. You have more questions, and you deserve more answers. But the reality is that there is still so much we do not know. So let me leave you with what I do know …
// There is nothing more comforting than sharing a meal around the table with the ones you love.
// There is no industry I would rather be in than one that serves others.
// Our communities need restaurants.
// Our guests are still craving our perfectly baked breadsticks, thick juicy steaks and homemade chicken tenders.
// Someday soon, our doors will reopen and pent-up demand will fill our dining rooms once again.
// We have the best team members in the world who live to delight our guests and serve our communities.
And finally, I know we will get through this — together.
Together, We Will See This Through
Every year, the senior leadership team participates in a thorough risk management process. One of the outcomes of that process is to develop comprehensive plans to deal with a crisis like COVID-19, so I am confident that we are well-prepared to handle the days and weeks ahead. That being said, this situation is evolving at unprecedented speed. I want to assure you that we have access to and are receiving the most up to date information available from health officials and government leaders as it relates to the COVID-19 virus.
We have established a cross-functional group of team members – led by Dave George and Sarah King – who are working together on the COVID-19 Task Force. They are ensuring that we are prepared for all possible scenarios so that we can respond appropriately. The brand presidents and functional leaders are in constant contact with each other and with me to discuss operational challenges and develop contingency plans. We meet as a team every day to discuss the state of our business, review any new information we have and make the best decisions for you and for our guests.
At the Restaurant Support Center, it is business as usual. Our goal is to continue to provide the best possible support we can. For individual team members who have compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions – either in the restaurants or the support center – we are committed to making the accommodations they need to stay healthy.
The most effective preventive measures are the same personal hygiene and sanitation practices we follow in our restaurants every day:
- Stay home when you show symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; after touching common surfaces like door handles; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, or your sleeve. Dispose of the tissue and wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
It is important to keep in mind that Darden is well-positioned to manage through this uncertain time thanks to the power of our brand portfolio, the financial strength of our company, and most importantly, the resiliency of our people.
I want you to know how much I appreciate your commitment to our guests and each other. We will continue to keep you informed and we will navigate this challenging situation together, one day at a time.