Darden results largely in line with muted Wall St expectations

March 22 Fri Mar 22, 2013 7:39am EDT

March 22 (Reuters) - Darden Restaurants Inc's quarterly results were largely in line with analysts' recently lowered estimates as the U.S. payroll tax hike and higher gasoline prices kept diners away from its Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains.

Orlando-based Darden, which has been trying to lure frugal diners with promotional offers and cheaper menu items, in February lowered its 2013 profit forecast after warning on its results for the fiscal third quarter ended Feb 24.

Since then, analysts have reduced their earnings estimate for the quarter by 10 percent on average, according to Thomson Reuters StarMine data.

Net income fell to $134.4 million, or $1.02 per share, from $164.1 million, or $1.25 per share, a year earlier.

Sales rose 4.6 percent to $2.26 billion.

Analysts on average expected a profit of $1.01 per share on sales of $2.26 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Visits to Darden's "Big Three" brands - Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse - were also hurt by colder weather. Combined same-restaurant sales at those chains fell 4.6 percent.

The company reiterated its full-year profit forecast of $3.06 to $3.22 per share.

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