Olive Garden’s CEO says fast food inflation is driving customers to sit down at concessions

Sit-down prices at fast-food chains are prompting some customers to skip the drive-thru in favor of a true casual dining experience, according to Darden Restaurants CEO Rick Cardenas.

Darden, which owns popular franchises including Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, has not yet capitalized on the trend, but high-profile competitors like Brinker International, which owns Chili’s, and Dine Brands, Applebee’s parent company, have begun marketing toward fast-food customers, Cardenas said. Cheap deals. .

On Darden’s quarterly earnings call Thursday, Cardenas said industry data shows “a little bit of a shift” from fast-food restaurants to competitors.

tape protection last It changes % changes
Direct reduction Darden Restaurants Company 153.26 -1.03 -0.67%
He eats Brinker International Company 71.26 -0.15 -0.21%
Debt Dine Brands Global Inc. 38.02 -0.51 -1.32%

Olive Garden is raising menu prices again

Customers enter Olive Garden restaurant in Pittsburgh, California, US, on Friday, December 9, 2022. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Getty Images)

“The consumer is really focused on the price they pay everywhere, not just in restaurants,” Cárdenas said.

His comments come after a recent opinion poll Conducted by LendingTree It found that 78% of consumers now consider fast food a “luxury” purchase based on higher prices.

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Half of those surveyed said they consider fast food a luxury because they are struggling financially. This is especially true for Americans who make less than $30,000 a year (71%), parents with young children (58%), and Generation Z (58%).

Financial pressures mean fewer people are visiting the drive-thru. The results show that three out of four Americans typically eat fast food once a week, but 62% of respondents said they eat it less often because of the cost.

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Big Smasher meal at Chili's Grill & Bar

Chili’s introduced the Big Smasher Burger, made with diced red onions, lettuce, pickles, Thousand Island dressing, American cheese, and a nearly half-pound burger patty that’s been smashed by hand, all for just $10.99. (Chili’s Grill & Bar)

Some franchises responded with temporary deals. McDonald’s has added a $5 menu item In June, Wendy’s introduced a $3 breakfast offer, both for a limited time.

Casual restaurants have come up with their own innovations to take a break from the dissatisfied fast food consumer base. Chili’s recently introduced a Big Mac-inspired “Big Smasher” burger that features twice the meat for just $10.99 when included in a value meal — which is only about $1 more expensive than going to McDonald’s.

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Applebee’s has separately rolled out different meal offerings specifically aimed at competing with fast-food chains, Dine Brands CEO John Peyton told CNBC in May.

FOX Business’ Breck Dumas contributed to this report.

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