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Thursday March 22, 2007

Olive Garden Outpaces Casual Dining Industry With 50th Consecutive Quarter of Same-Restaurant Sales Growth

Darden Restaurants attributes milestone to Olive Garden's guest-focused culture and the brand's committed pursuit of inspiration from Italy

ORLANDO, Fla., March 22 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) Tuesday reported that Olive Garden has achieved 50 consecutive quarters of positive U.S. same-restaurant sales growth, a testament to the company's strong brand identity and commitment to delivering a genuine Italian dining experience to its more than 3 million guests weekly.

Tuesday's announcement is a milestone for Olive Garden and the casual dining industry as more than half of the casual dining companies in Nation's Restaurant News' Top 100 as of June 2006 currently have no consecutive quarters of same restaurant sales increases, according to SEC filings and Knapp Track quarterly reports. No other Top 100 casual dining restaurant brand comes close to Olive Garden's mark.

With an unwavering focus on welcoming guests like family and friends and continuously looking to Italy for inspiration in all aspects of the dining experience, Olive Garden has become the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 603 restaurants and more than $2.6 billion in annual sales.

"Darden's restaurant companies -- including Olive Garden -- have a strong culture and a clear strategy," said Clarence Otis, chairman and CEO, Darden Restaurants, Inc. "Our operating companies are committed to achieving brand management and operational excellence. Olive Garden's achievement of 50 consecutive quarters underscores this proven approach to managing the business, and we believe Darden is well positioned to sustain competitively superior results going forward."

Olive Garden's commitment to excellence has resulted in more guests across North America trusting the restaurant company with their everyday dining visits and important special occasions with family and friends. Over the 50 quarters of increases (1994-2007), Olive Garden's average weekly guest count per restaurant has increased 26%, even as it has grown from 436 restaurants to 603.

"Olive Garden's success over the past 50 quarters reflects its ability to achieve a goal and then immediately set the bar even higher," said Drew Madsen, Darden's president and COO. "Even now, the team is focused on maintaining same-restaurant operating excellence while aiming to open about 40 new restaurants in each of the next two fiscal years and accelerating to 40 units per year thereafter."

Olive Garden's strong brand identity as well as the dining experience that it provides guests has been built on the inspiration the company derives from Italy and the friendships and partnerships it has established in that country. A friendship with Sergio and Daniela Zingarelli, owners of the Rocca delle Macie winery led to the establishment in 1999 of the Olive Garden Culinary Institute of Tuscany and the Olive Garden Riserva di Fizzano restaurant, both in the heart of Tuscany. Each year Olive Garden brings approximately 100 managers to train at its Culinary Institute while the Riserva di Fizzano restaurant serves as a source of inspiration for new menu items at its restaurants in North America.

Just as wine enjoys a prominent place on the Italian table, it too plays a key role in the genuine Italian dining experience that Olive Garden provides its guests. Team members at every Olive Garden participate in ongoing wine education and training programs to better enable them to assist guests with wine selection. The company pairs that training with an innovative wine sampling program that enables guests to try any one of the 33 wines that Olive Garden offers by the glass on its wine list. The sampling program, which in many cases introduces guests to wine for the first time, results in Olive Garden giving away more than 30,000 cases of
wine annually.

"Ultimately, the success we've enjoyed is a result of the commitment of the entire Olive Garden family to our shared purpose of Hospitaliano! our passion for 100% guest delight," said Dave Pickens, president of Olive Garden. "That commitment is especially important for our general managers who do a great job of creating and maintaining a culture in our restaurants where everyone, guests and team members, are welcomed like family and
friends."

About Olive Garden

Olive Garden is the leading restaurant in the Italian dining segment with 603 restaurants, more than 70,000 employees and $2.6 billion in annual sales. Olive Garden is a division of Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI), the world's largest casual dining company in sales and market share. For more information, visit Olive Garden's Web site at http://www.olivegarden.com.

About Darden

Darden Restaurants, Inc. headquartered in Orlando, FL, owns and operates over 1,460 Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones and Seasons 52(R) restaurants that collectively serve more than 300 million meals every year and record annual sales of $5.7 billion. The Company, which first went public in 1995, is the 25th largest employer in the United States (65th largest in the world) offering its employees the opportunity to pursue their personal and professional goals in the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry.

Forward-looking statements in this news release are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Certain important factors could cause results to differ materially from those anticipated by the forward-looking statements including the impact of intense competition, changing economic or business conditions, the price and availability of food, ingredients and utilities, labor and insurance costs, increased advertising and marketing costs, higher-than-anticipated costs to open or close restaurants, litigation, unfavorable publicity, a lack of suitable locations, government regulations, a failure to achieve growth objectives, weather, risks associated with our plans to improve financial performance at Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones and to reposition Smokey Bones, and other factors discussed from time to time in reports filed by the Company with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Olive Garden Facts

  • Has 603 restaurants in the United States and Canada
  • Expected to open about 40 new restaurants in fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009
  • Has average annual sales per restaurant of $4.6 million
  • Has invested more than 500,000 hours of training on its wine program alone
  • Recently named Wine Enthusiast's "Wine Persons of the Year"
  • Largest purveyor of Italian wine in the United States
  • Brings group of servers to Italy every year
  • More than 500 graduates of its Culinary Institute of Tuscany
  • Uses 10% of entire world production of Pecorino Romano cheese