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ORLANDO-Darden Restaurants Inc. is off to a fast start in the first month of its fiscal 2002 first quarter.

At its Olive Garden division, the locally based, 1,170-store chain is reporting a 4% to 5% sales increase in locations open at least a year; a 3% to 4% rise in guests counts; a 1% to 2% rise in pricing; and a marginal increase in check average due to menu-mix changes.

The numbers are for the firm’s five-week June month. In last year’s comparable period, Darden had a 9% to 10% same-restaurant sales driven by a 6% rise in guest counts, a 2% to 3% increase in pricing and a 1% to 2% increase in check average from menu-mix changes.

At Red Lobster, its flagship division, same-store sales were up 4% to 5%; pricing, up 2% to 3%; check average up 3%; but a 1% decline in guest counts.

In fiscal June 2000, the division had a 4% to 5% same-restaurant sales increase; a 2% increase in pricing; a 3% increase in check average; and unchanged guests counts.

June sales for the company’s Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar restaurants weren’t disclosed.

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