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Darden CEO Expects Double-Digit Earnings Growth

Darden Restaurants, the Number 1 casual-restaurant chain in the United States, which has reported down quarters over the last 12 months, expects earnings growth of 15 percent to 18 percent in 2011.

“We’ve seen an improvement through the year,” Clarence Otis Jr., CEO of Darden , told CNBC Thursday. “We expect that to continue into the next year.”

Darden said that over the last year, the industry average for same-store same-restaurant sales, although still negative, has improved steadily.

“When you look at our fiscal year over the last 12 months, the first quarter for the industry, same-store same-restaurant sales were down 8 percent; the second quarter, down 6; third quarter, down about 4; this quarter, down about 1.5 percent,” said Otis.

Darden owns the chains Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Longhorn Steakhouse. Its Q4 revenue was down 5.5 percent to $1.86 billion.

This week, the Red Lobster chain took oysters off its menu because its main supplier went out of business, due to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Otis said that oyster dishes aren’t a big part of its sales—about $3.5 million a year.

Otis added that the company isn’t strongly impacted by the spill. “Seafood is a global product,” added. “We source globally. We don’t expect a lot of cost pressure from the spill.”