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ORLANDO, FL- Darden Restaurants Inc.’s key brands are making strides in restaurant operations and brand building.

These improvements are the reason why the company reported sales of $1.2 billion for the second quarter ended November 28, 2004, a 44% increase over the prior year, says Darden CEO Clarence Otis. Moreover, net earnings in the second quarter were $43.0 millioncompared to $30.1 million for the same period lastyear.

In particular, Olive Garden and Red Lobster were strong performers for Darden during the second quarter, Otis says. Olive Garden reported record sales and operating profits for the period. It posted record second quarter sales of $564.2 million were 8.8% aboveprior year — the 41st consecutive quarter of same-restaurant sales growth with a 5.5% increase over the 4.3% increase in the second-quarter last year.

Similarly, Red Lobster’s second quarter sales of$569.2 million were 4.4% above prior year, driven by a same-restaurant sales increase of 3.4%. Darden’s other brands, Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones, continued to improve by operating five fewer restaurants than the prior year, Otis says. In contrast, Smokey Bones opened seven restaurants during the second quarter, bringing the year-to-date total to 14 openings. In addition, the company has opened five more restaurants since the end of the quarter. As a result, Smokey Bones now has 88 restaurants in operation. It expects to open a total of 30 to 40 restaurants during the fiscal year.

Overall, Darden’s now owns and operates more than 1,300 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones and Seasons 52 restaurants with annual sales of $5 billion.

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