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Darden Sales Improve but Remain Off From a Year Earlier

While Darden's restaurants are reporting slow but steady improvement in sales, the numbers are still down sharply from a year earlier.

Darden Restaurants  (DRI) , the operator of Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, reported sales slowly but steadily improving but still down sharply from a year earlier.

Darden's stock eased 2.7% to $73.45 as the Orlando, Fla., company reported a nearly 48% drop in same-store restaurant sales in its fiscal fourth-quarter through last Sunday.

Still, even that number represented some improvement, with the decline in sales has eased from the end of March when Darden reported a more than 60% plunge.

Olive Garden saw the biggest improvement, with same-store restaurant sales down 39% for the quarter to date, compared with more than 46% at the end of March.

LongHorn has also seen improvement, with quarter-to-date restaurant sales down 46%, compared with off 59% at the end of March.

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Darden's fined-dining chains, which include Capital Grille and Seasons 52, have been the hardest hit, with a 63% decline in quarter-to-date restaurant sales.

Meanwhile, the drop in restaurant sales has steadily narrowed at Darden's various restaurants. They have slowly reopened as the state, local, and federal coronavirus restrictions have eased.

Darden began reopening restaurant dining rooms on April 27, limiting capacity to 25% to 50%, based on local and state rules.

Darden, in a statement, noted that nearly half its restaurant dining rooms at its various chains were open for business, on a limited-capacity basis, by May 17. Darden said it expected that number to reach 65% by the end of May.

Last month, BMO Capital gave Darden Restaurants a ratings boost along with other fast-casual restaurants.