Darden Restaurants, the owner of out-of-home dining chains including Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, is looking to enhance its delivery capabilities in response to COVID-19 – and will focus its ads on this area, too.

Gene Lee, Darden’s chief executive officer, discussed the organisation’s response to Coronavirus on a recent conference call with investors.

With many of its outlets now limited to providing takeout, rather than sit-down meals, Darden is seeking to meet burgeoning demand for meals to-go.

“When I looked at it yesterday, our off-premise business was growing about 20% versus last year. So, it’s picking up as people change their behaviors,” Lee said. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Darden Restaurants responds as COVID-19 slams out-of-home dining.)

“We do believe that we can build – and we’re seeing build in to-go sales at Olive Garden and at LongHorn Steakhouse, [with] significant growth in to-go during this time period.”

As Darden Restaurants augments this element of its business, partnering with delivery companies is an option that is “on the table”, Lee suggested.

“However, what we’re focused on right now is ramping up, and using our team members to … develop our own delivery capabilities, which our teams are ramping very, very quickly.

“We’re getting better and better on our to-go business, too. So, as it becomes to-go only, we would hope to continue to grow that.”

Given the COVID-related obstacles facing the restaurant category, it is no surprise that non-essential outgoings – such as new restaurant openings – are being postponed or cut by Darden whenever possible.

The company has also decided to reduce its adspend, and concentrate its messaging on at-home delivery, said Rick Cardenas, svp/chief financial officer at Darden Restaurants.

“With the sales results we’re seeing now, we are focusing any advertising that we do on to-go, especially for Olive Garden and LongHorn,” he said.

“We have significantly reduced our advertising spend, or we plan on significantly reducing [it] where we can. But anything we do [in terms of advertising] would be focused on our to-go experience.”

Sourced from WARC