ORLANDO-Same-restaurant sales at the Olive Garden increased 9.9% during the chain’s fourth quarter fiscal 2005 compared to the same period for fiscal 2004. The increase represents the 43rd consecutive quarter of same-restaurant sales growth, which is matched only by market heavy-weight Cheesecake Factory. For the entire year, Olive Garden’s same-restaurant sales increased 7.2%.

“We are delighted by the continued strong sales growththat Olive Garden delivered during fiscal 2005,” saysLinda Dimopoulus, CFO of Darden Restaurants Inc.,which owns and operates the Olive Garden chain. Olive Garden’s fourth quarter sales spiked 5.6% to$626.9 million. And, for the entire year, the chainposted record total sales of $2.4 billion, up 8.5%.During the year, 20 new Olive Garden restaurantsopened, which helped sales.

Darden executives say that Olive Garden’s strong sales performance has favorably impacted the entire company. “In particular, Olive Garden’s 43rd quarter of same-restaurant sales increased helped generate double-digit growth in total sales and operating profit,” says Andrew Madsen, president and COO of Darden.

For the forth quarter fiscal 2005, the restaurantoperator posted net earnings of $84 million or 52cents per diluted share – an increase of 63% over thesame period last year. On a company-wide basis, salesincreased 2.6% to $1.4 billion.

“Our focus in fiscal 2006 is to accelerate newrestaurant growth at Olive Garden,” Madsen says. Nextyear, the company plans to open 20 to 25 newrestaurants, and by 2008 it hope to roll out 40 OliveGardens each year.

Darden owns and operates over 1,380 Red Lobster, OliveGarden, Bahama Breeze, Smokey Bones and Seasons 52restaurants.

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