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Red Lobster, Olive Garden are not upscale enough: Restaurant group distances itself from foodie hated brands

Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 exterior night
The company will focus attention on newer, more upscale chains like Capitol Grill and Seasons 52. Photo courtesy of Seasons 52
News_Eddie V's, lounge
"Specialty restaurants" like Eddie V's (above) enjoyed a profitable year while mainstay brand Red Lobster floundered. Photo by Shannon O'Hara/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau
News_Red Lobster_restaurant
Seasons 52 restaurant Houston May 2013 exterior night
Olive Garden billboard
News_Eddie V's, lounge

Amid a shifting tide of casual dining trends, the Darden restaurant group will throw Red Lobster overboard and greatly scale back its two other flagship brands.

In a statement to shareholders, the company says it plans to spin off or sell the legendary seafood chain and its 705 locations across the United States and Canada. Darden also will halt expansion of the Olive Garden and drastically limit the number of new LongHorn Steakhouse branches.

Darden brands have suffered as consumers move toward "fast causal" restaurants like Panera and Chipotle. 

Moving forward, the Florida-based company will concentrate on its more upscale "specialty restaurants" like Eddie V's, Yard House, Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and the Capital Grille. Seasons 52 just recently moved into the Houston market.

New "specialty" locations will be built across the nation in the coming year, albeit at a slower pace than previously announced.

Darden's core brands have taken a hit during the Great Recession as consumers lean toward less expensive "fast casual" dining options like Panera Bread, Chipotle, Smashburger and Pei Wei.

Despite a continent-wide remodeling effort, poor Red Lobster saw customer traffic plummet nearly 8 percent in the last quarter compared to the same time last year. Olive Garden and LongHorn had modest sales gains, though primarily due to massive expansion efforts.

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