Olive Garden restaurant exterior
OIive Garden contributed greatly to Darden's higher sales.

ORLANDO — Continued momentum at Olive Garden helped parent company Darden Restaurants, Inc. achieve higher sales in the second quarter ended Nov. 29. Darden had net earnings of $43.2 million, equal to 34c per share on the common stock, which compared with a net loss of $32.8 million in the prior-year period. Adjusted diluted net earnings per share increased 93% to 54c, driven by continued improvement in core operating performance and favorable settlement of legal matters, offset by expense from three restaurant impairments.

Sales advanced to $1,608.8 million, up 3.2% from year-ago sales of $1,559 million.

Gene Lee, Darden Restaurants
Gene Lee, c.e.o. of Darden

“Our brands significantly outperformed the industry during the quarter with strong same-restaurant sales growth of 2.9% on a comparable calendar basis and positive same-restaurant sales at each of our brands,” said Gene Lee, chief executive officer, during a Dec. 18 earnings call with financial analysts. “The momentum we’ve built at Olive Garden continued during the quarter. Same-restaurant sales grew at 2.8% on a comparable calendar basis, outperforming the industry by more than 300 basis points.

“This was our fifth consecutive quarter of growth. In addition, same-restaurant traffic was positive on a comparable calendar basis.”

Based on year-to-date performance, the company has raised its full-year guidance for same-restaurant sales growth to a range of 2.5% to 3%, and adjusted diluted earnings per share to a range of $3.25 to $3.35.

“When we look at what’s going on at Olive Garden, between the promotional schedule that we have coming, the value and the feedback that we’re getting from consumers, the trajectory in the to-go business, we believe that Olive Garden is set up and has done a tremendous amount of work over the last year to really position that brand to be able to compete effectively,” Mr. Lee said. “We think that we’re getting more effective in our digital marketing efforts. We’re much more segmented in how we’re talking to our consumers. We think we’ve got relative messaging out there, and we just believe that this momentum will continue into the back half of the year if the environment stays the way it is right now.”

As part of a previously announced real estate strategy, Darden has completed the spin-off of 424 restaurant properties, as well as 62 of 64 planned restaurant sale leasebacks and the sale leaseback of its support center in Orlando.