What Does Foot Traffic to Darden Restaurants like Olive Garden Reveal about Consumer Interest in Sit-Down Dining?

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Following the pandemic, dine-in restaurants lost significant levels of consumer foot traffic as consumers grappled with record-high inflation and opted to prioritize their spending on essentials. However, recent consumer trends point to increased discretionary spending.

So how is foot traffic to Darden Restaurants, the parent company of well-known chain restaurants including Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and the recently acquired Ruth’s Chris Steak House, being affected? Furthermore, recent consumer foot traffic data points to a resurgence in sit-down restaurant popularity, so might that trend continue this year, benefitting companies like Darden?

To learn more about current consumer interest in Darden Restaurants and top competing restaurant chains, we analyzed foot traffic to these restaurants over the last year. Read on for our findings.

Foot Traffic to Darden Restaurant Locations

We examined foot traffic to Darden’s major restaurant chains, including Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Additionally, we analyzed foot traffic to Darden’s major restaurant competitors, including Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster, to gain a better understanding of consumer interest in these chains and sit-down restaurants as a whole.

Over the last 12 months, all the chains we analyzed saw similar foot traffic trends, suggesting that there may have been shared factors influencing consumer foot traffic, such as inflation, seasonality, or shifting consumer demand for dining out.

Foot traffic to these restaurants was mostly stable, but significantly declined from October to November 2022 before experiencing an uptick. LongHorn Steakhouse experienced the most substantial decrease at 71%, while Outback Steakhouse saw the smallest decline at 59%—still a significant downturn. During this time, high inflation may have been impacting consumers’ discretionary spending, likely driving them to focus spending on essential goods and holiday shopping, rather than dining out.

While foot traffic levels showed signs of recovery by February 2023, foot traffic to Darden’s brands and competitor restaurants has declined year-over-year. As of May 2023, Darden brands, including Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, experienced foot traffic declines of 10%, 21%, and 29%, respectively. Furthermore, Outback Steakhouse and Red Lobster saw declines of 22% and 32%, respectively.

Seeing the greatest declines of the companies we analyzed, Red Lobster and Ruth’s Chris Steak House may face greater challenges in attracting more consumers than Olive Garden, which experienced a relatively minor decline. Ultimately, however, all of the analyzed restaurant chains experienced significant year-over-year declines in foot traffic as economic concerns like inflation persisted in the last year. Will consumer foot traffic to Darden’s restaurants and competing chains recover this year as inflation gradually settles? Or have consumers been facing the unfortunate reality of being priced-out of popular dine-in restaurant chains?

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Inflation & Discretionary Spending

The pandemic led to numerous lingering economic disruptions like supply chain challenges and sky-high inflation, leading to record-high rises in food costs around the country, and this impacted menu prices at restaurants of all types. In fact, in 2022, year-over-year restaurant menu prices increased to a record high of 8.7%. This may be why, toward the tail end of 2022, consumer trends favored discount stores like Walmart and affordable fast food locations like McDonalds. It’s no wonder that consumer foot traffic to Darden’s restaurants dipped during the last few months of 2022.

While menu prices continue to stay elevated, there has been a noticeable slowdown in the rate of menu price increases over the past few months. April and May 2023 marked the first pair of consecutive months for decelerating growth in menu price increases. With signs of food costs slowing down, consumers may begin to dine-in more this year.

Furthermore, although some economic concerns continue on, consumers are now showing a major shift in their spending habits. Discretionary spending is taking the lead in 2023, and consumers are spending more freely on non-essential goods. With this trend, we’ve also seen an overall increase in consumer foot traffic to non-fast food restaurants. So, although Darden’s brands have experienced an overall decline in year-over-year foot traffic, shifting consumer interest could prove to be an advantage for dine-in destinations this year.


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