Darden cancels investor meeting as activists turn up heat

Wed Mar 5, 2014 5:12pm EST
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By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Darden Restaurants Inc (DRI.N: Quote) has canceled its analyst and investor meeting slated for later this month as two activist shareholders lobby for bolder steps to improve performance at its chain eateries, ranging from Olive Garden to Capital Grille.

Rather than hold the meeting, which was scheduled for March 28, the company will meet individually with analysts and investors, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Darden is the biggest U.S. operator of full-service restaurant chains as measured in outlets.

"We're taking it on the road," said spokesman Rich Jeffers. "We're reaching out to everyone who was planning to attend."

Jeffers told Reuters the meetings started on Monday and that Darden believes one-on-one sessions will be more productive than a single group meeting.

Darden has received negative press in the past for shutting out analysts who are critical of management. News of the canceled meeting revived those complaints in some circles.

"When there are problems and they don't want to take difficult questions, they shut down management access to analysts," said Hedgeye Risk Management restaurant analyst Howard Penney.

Penney has been a vocal critic of Darden and had not yet registered to attend the March 28 meeting before it was canceled.   Continued...

Passersby walk in front of the Times Square Red Lobster restaurant in New York, June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Keith Bedford