Darden Restaurants’ sales were helped by “unbelievable” winter weather that saved consumers money on heating bills, which they spent, in part, on eating out, said Lazard Capital Markets senior restaurant analyst Matthew DiFrisco.
An earlier Lent also helped, particularly at Darden’s Red Lobster restaurants, he told CNBC Thursday, after the company projected fiscal third-quarter profit ahead of analyst expectations.
The rising price of gasoline is less of a factor, for now, DiFrisco said.
“We’re not in a very heavy driving season right now,” he said, but the prospect of $4 a gallon or higher for gas could be a bigger concern “as we get into spring and summer,” he said.
DiFrisco said analysts want to see whether Darden can continue to expand margins at all its restaurants, which also include Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse.
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Mathew DiFrisco does not own shares, but Lazard makes a market in Darden stock.