Orlando-based Darden Restaurants to close all 1,800 dining rooms, due to coronavirus

click to enlarge Orlando-based Darden Restaurants to close all 1,800 restaurant dining rooms, due to coronavirus
Photo via Tdorante10/Wikimedia Commons
Update, 2:15 p.m. | Minutes after this was published, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order stopping all on-site consumption of food and beverages at all Florida restaurants. Kitchens may still operate for delivery or takeout. The order also allows restaurants to make package sales of alcohol for delivery, takeout or consumption off-premises. Gyms and fitness centers in Florida are closed by the order, as well.

Darden Restaurants, Inc., the only Fortune 500 company located in Orlando, announced Friday it is closing its 1,800 restaurant dining rooms nationwide, due to the coronavirus pandemic rocking the world.

For now, the chain will continue operating takeout and delivery kitchens, with six to 10 employees per shift.

The dining rooms will close up indefinitely at the end of the night on Friday, according to CEO Gene Lee.

Darden's brands include LongHorn Steakhouse, Olive Garden, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, Eddie V's Prime Seafood, The Capital Grille, Bahama Breeze and Seasons 52.

The company employs 150,000 workers nationally.

Darden CFO Rick Cardenas said on a call that sales were down approximately 60 percent as of Wednesday, with the same percentage of restaurant dining rooms already closed. By Thursday morning, the number of closed dining rooms had jumped to 80 percent.

On Thursday, the company announced it would send emergency pay to its employees, based on the average hours worked over the previous 13 weeks, for those who can't get shifts or hours due to closures.

Lee noted he has stopped taking his million-dollar annual salary, which works out to approximately $19,230 a week.

"We are committed to the health and safety of our team members and guests by offering limited or no contact curbside pickup and practicing social distancing in our seating configurations in all locations where we are permitted to operate our dining rooms," wrote Lee. "Though it will not be enough to make everyone whole, our Emergency Pay Program — specifically designed to support our dedicated, hourly team members — will begin next week."

Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, all bars and nightclubs in Florida were closed on March 17 for 30 days. As of March 18, Central Florida restaurants are still open for takeout and delivery, and grocery stores are open during limited hours. Follow CDC guidelines and Orange County advisories on staying safe.

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