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Darden Brands: Location Analytics and Consumer Behavior

Ezra Carmel
March 19, 2024
Darden Brands: Location Analytics and Consumer Behavior

Despite the individual restaurant success stories in 2023, last year was also a period of economic headwinds in the dining industry. But Darden Restaurants – and its largest chains Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen – continued to drive foot traffic. We dove into the location analytics for these three Darden brands and took a closer look at the shifts in consumer behavior impacting the dining space.

A Great Start

Foot traffic in 2023 was largely positive for Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, with the strong visit trends likely helping drive Darden’s recent sales growth.

All three brands posted impressive YoY visit growth in Q1 2023, perhaps aided by the comparison to an Omicron-impacted, muted Q1 2022. LongHorn Steakhouse then pulled ahead of the pack in Q2 and Q3 with YoY foot traffic up 3.7% and 4.8%, respectively, before finishing the year off strong with a 3.8% YoY visit increase in Q4. But the real Darden star in Q4 was Olive Garden. The Italian-focused chain’s success was likely bolstered by the return of the Never Ending Pasta Bowl – offered from late September 2023 through mid-November – which appears to have attracted even more hungry diners than it did the previous year.

Meanwhile, YoY visits to Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen increased during the first three quarters of 2023 and held relatively steady in Q4 – YoY visits during the last quarter of the year were down just 0.7% – highlighting the overall strength of Darden’s portfolio. 

Best Served Hot

Though 2023 was a particularly successful year for Darden foot traffic, Olive Garden, LongHorn, and Cheddar’s were not immune to this year’s arctic blast. The extreme weather in January 2024 impacted dining visits and put a damper on traffic to these chains. But once the weather warmed up in February 2024, YoY visits to Olive Garden, LongHorn, and Cheddar’s began to heat up as well – outpacing even the strong early 2023 traffic – indicating that Darden brands are likely in for another year of robust visits. 

Darden Dines Early

Diving deeper into the analytics for Darden’s brands indicated that shifts in consumer behavior may be a factor in the restaurants’ recent foot traffic gains. Analysis of hourly visits to Olive Garden, LongHorn, and Cheddar’s since 2019 revealed that a greater share of visitors are now engaging with their favorite restaurants during non-traditional dayparts in the mid and late afternoon. 

The share of daily Olive Garden, LongHorn, and Cheddar’s visitors visiting between 2 PM and 5:59 PM was higher in 2023 than in 2019 for all three brands. Olive Garden had the largest share of mid and late afternoon visits in 2022 at 32.6% and maintained its share of 2:00 PM to 5:59 PM visitation in 2023. Meanwhile, LongHorn and Cheddar’s share of visits during the 2:00 PM to 5:59 PM daypart continued increasing in 2023 relative to the previous year, which suggests that this trend of late afternoon and early dinner visits is becoming the new normal. 

As eating out early is becoming more prevalent in the casual dining space – as well as in fine dining and steakhouse restaurants – Darden might capitalize on this trend by adding more happy hours and other late-afternoon specials to its restaurants’ menus.

Ready for the Next Course

Darden’s biggest chains succeeded in driving foot traffic growth in 2023 and early 2024. Location analytics indicated that while demand for the brands is consistent, consumer behavior is always changing. How will these restaurants navigate the rest of 2024? Visit to find out.

This blog includes data from Data Version 2.0, which implements improvements to our extrapolation capabilities, adds short visit monitoring, and enhances visit detection.

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