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Pro Research: Wall Street Deep Dive into Darden Restaurants



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Explore Wall Street’s expert insights with this ProResearch article, which will exclusively be available to InvestingPro subscribers soon. Enhance your investment strategy with ProPicks, our newest product featuring strategies that have outperformed the S&P 500 by up to 700%. This New Year, enjoy up to 50% off on a subscription to InvestingPro. In addition, take an extra 10% off a 2-year InvestingPro+ subscription with the code SFY24 or claim an extra 10% off a 1-year InvestingPro+ subscription with the code SFY241. To ensure ongoing access to valuable content like this, step up your investment game with InvestingPro.

Market Performance and Industry Trends

Darden Restaurants (NYSE:), Inc., known for its popular dining brands like Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse, has been a topic of interest on Wall Street, especially given its recent performance in the restaurant industry. Analysts have noted a significant +17% increase in the sector in Q4, outpacing the S&P500 index’s +11% rise. However, expectations for average comparable sales (comps) growth in 2024 are more conservative at +3.2%, down from +6.8% in the previous year. This change reflects a broader trend in the industry, where restaurants typically see a +7% boost during election years since 2000.

Darden’s financial health has been a bright spot, with its Q3/24 revenue estimated at $3,029 million and an expected EBITDA for FY24 to rise to $1,810M. The company has raised its FY24 EPS guidance to a range of $8.75-$8.90, up from the previous estimates of $8.80. This upward revision follows a second-quarter earnings beat and strong restaurant margins, despite the company tempering its comp assumption to the lower end of prior guidance.

Competitive Landscape and Strategy

Analysts have lauded Darden for its superior execution and effective cost management, which have allowed it to outperform the casual dining industry. Olive Garden, in particular, has been a standout with its comp growth significantly outpacing peers, thanks to high guest satisfaction and successful promotions like the Never Ending Pasta Bowl. Darden’s acquisition of Ruth’s Chris has also been viewed positively, with synergy targets considered conservative, indicating potential for additional value.

Despite these strengths, the company is not without its challenges. Moderating comp trends are expected in future quarters due to consumer spending pressures and normalization post-promotion periods. Margin expansion is anticipated to moderate as well, due to factors like higher commodity inflation and lapping labor productivity gains.

Bear Case

Is Darden’s growth sustainable amid moderating trends?

While Darden has shown resilience and market share gains within the casual dining sector, there are concerns about the sustainability of this growth. Analysts have pointed to moderating comp trends and margin expansion challenges ahead, driven by consumer spending pressures and the potential negative impact of a less favorable sales mix. The company’s sales trends are expected to face headwinds as promotional periods end and consumers become more selective with their spending.

How will macroeconomic factors affect Darden’s performance?

Macroeconomic factors, such as consumer discretionary income and commodity inflation, pose risks to Darden’s performance. While the company has managed these challenges well so far, there is uncertainty about its ability to maintain margins and drive sales if economic conditions deteriorate. As consumers tighten their belts, the company may see a decline in add-on sales such as alcohol, which could affect same-store sales (SSS) growth.

Bull Case

Can Darden continue to outperform its peers?

Darden’s track record of market share gains and strong execution even in a challenging operating environment suggests that it may continue to outperform its peers. The company’s industry-leading scale and diverse brand portfolio, along with the strategic acquisition of Ruth’s Chris, position it well for sustained growth across various economic cycles. Analysts are optimistic about the company’s ability to raise its outlook in the near term.

Will Darden’s strategic initiatives lead to long-term growth?

The company’s strategic initiatives, such as promotional strategies and acquisitions, have been successful in driving growth. Darden’s focus on guest satisfaction and cost management has allowed it to navigate a challenging industry landscape effectively. With the company raising its FY24 EPS guidance following strong quarterly results, there is confidence in its continued profitability and long-term growth prospects.

SWOT Analysis


  • Strong brand portfolio with high guest satisfaction.
  • Effective promotional strategies and cost management.
  • Market share gains within the casual dining sector.


  • Moderating comp trends and margin expansion challenges.
  • Consumer spending pressures and potential negative sales mix.


  • Potential for market outperformance with strategic acquisitions.
  • Ability (OTC:) to leverage industry-leading scale across economic cycles.


  • Macroeconomic factors impacting consumer discretionary income.
  • Commodity inflation and labor productivity gains lapping.

Analysts Targets

  • BMO Capital Markets: Market Perform rating with a price target of $160.00 (December 18, 2023).
  • KeyBanc Capital Markets: Overweight rating with a price target of $177.00 (December 18, 2023).
  • Barclays Capital Inc.: Overweight rating with a price target of $180.00 (December 18, 2023).

The deep-dive analysis spans from December 2023 to January 2024.

InvestingPro Insights

Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI), with its portfolio of well-known dining brands, has been drawing attention for its financial performance and strategic initiatives. The company’s market capitalization stands at a robust $19.01B, reflecting investor confidence. According to InvestingPro data, Darden’s Price to Earnings (P/E) ratio is currently at 19.18, which is considered high relative to its near-term earnings growth, indicating that investors may be expecting higher earnings in the future. This is further supported by the fact that Darden has a slightly lower adjusted P/E ratio of 18.02 for the last twelve months as of Q2 2024, suggesting some analysts believe the stock’s earnings potential is improving.

InvestingPro Tips highlight that Darden has demonstrated a commitment to returning value to shareholders, having raised its dividend for 3 consecutive years and maintaining dividend payments for 30 consecutive years. This consistent dividend growth, most recently at 8.26%, is a testament to Darden’s financial health and management’s confidence in the company’s stability and growth prospects. Additionally, a notable number of 14 analysts have revised their earnings upwards for the upcoming period, signaling potential positive momentum for the company’s financial performance.

For investors looking to delve deeper into Darden’s financials and future prospects, InvestingPro offers additional insights. Currently, there are over 9 additional InvestingPro Tips available for Darden, which can be accessed through a subscription. InvestingPro is now on a special New Year sale with a discount of up to 50%. To take advantage of this offer, use coupon code “SFY24” to get an additional 10% off a 2-year InvestingPro+ subscription, or “SFY241” to get an additional 10% off a 1-year InvestingPro+ subscription.

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