Darden CEO says consumers haven’t changed as coronavirus cases spike


A customer carries a to-go bag outside a Darden Restaurants Inc. Olive Garden restaurant in Clarksville, Indiana, U.S., on Thursday, March 5, 2020.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Darden Restaurants CEO Gene Lee said that the company has not seen any changes to consumer behavior even as Covid-19 cases begin to spike in some states.

“We’ve seen no change in our business trends, and the states that are starting to spike obviously, we’re concerned, we’re focused on it,” Lee told analysts Thursday on the company’s earnings call. 

“You know, maybe something will change tomorrow, I don’t know, but right now there’s nothing for us to say that can add any value to this topic,” he later said.

Wednesday set a record for the highest single day of new coronavirus cases in the United States, according to a tally by NBC News. States in the South and West have reported a surge of new diagnoses in the last week, but some governors are expressing resistance to reimpose lockdowns or restrictions.

Lee said Darden, which owns Olive Garden, could pivot to off-premise again if needed, but the transition would happen on a smaller scale. Darden has reopened 91% of dining rooms with limited capacity.

Shares of Darden rose 6% in morning trading after the company reported its fiscal fourth quarter results. While it swung to a loss and saw net sales fall 43%, it expects business to pick up as dining rooms reopen and states relax lockdowns.

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