UPDATE 1-Activist steps up push for change at Darden Restaurants
Nov 21 (Reuters) - Activist investor group Barington Capital Group stepped up its push for change at restaurant chain and Olive Garden parent Darden Restaurants Inc on Thursday.
Barington, which leads a group of shareholders that own a combined 2 percent stake in the chain, said it hired investment bank Houlihan Lokey to conduct an independent review of recommendations to improve Darden's financial performance.
It also said it is working with proxy solicitation firm MacKenzie Partners.
The news comes about a month after New York-based Barington said it had sent a letter to Darden management encouraging the company to break itself up and explore spinning off its real estate properties.
The fund recommends that Darden split into two companies -one for Olive Garden and Red Lobster, and the other for its higher-growth brands including LongHorn Steakhouse, The Capital Grille, Yard House and Bahama Breeze.
Darden's earnings have suffered recently as U.S. consumers have cut spending, and the company has faced competition from brands like Panera Bread Co and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.
In the first quarter ended Aug. 25, Darden's net income fell 37 percent to $70.2 million, or 53 cents per share.
The company has said it plans to cut $50 million in operating costs per year, starting in fiscal 2015.