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NYC dining rooms are still closed. That's squeezing Olive Garden's best restaurant

New York (CNN Business)Last year, the Times Square Olive Garden was the chain's best location. Not anymore.

Before the pandemic, New York City's Times Square was bustling with office workers, theater goers and tourists. But pandemic restrictions have forced Broadway to go dark and dining rooms to remain closed. New York City has banned indoor dining since March, and plans to start allowing indoor dining at up to only 25 percent capacity at the end of the month.
The changes have been disastrous for the Times Square Olive Garden, which is located on West 47th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue. The restaurant, which opened in 1994, is three stories tall, has two kitchens and can seat about 500 guests. In years past, it has sold New Year's Eve packages for hundreds of dollars per person.

The restaurant used to bring in over $15 million in sales per year on average before the pandemic, or about $300,000 per week, the company said on an analyst call discussing the company's quarterly results on Thursday. Now, the restaurant is making about $17,500 per week in sales.

"That's our best restaurant in the Olive Garden system," said Eugene Lee, CEO of Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, during the call. He added that the weekly shortfall "can probably be hard for you to believe."

Casual dining restaurants, which have long advertised as places to visit in person, have been suffering during the pandemic. Sizzler USA, one of the country's first casual restaurant chains, filed for bankruptcy this week. Chuck E. Cheese's parent company, CEC Entertainment, filed for bankruptcy in June, blaming the financial strain caused by Covid-19 and the prolonged closures of its entertainment centers from stay-at-home orders.
Darden (DRI), which also owns Longhorn Steakhouse, Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen, and other brands, has also struggled.

In the three months that ended on August 30, sales at Olive Garden restaurants open at least a year fell about 28 percent compared to the same period last year, the company said Thursday. Darden's total sales for the quarter fell about 28 percent to $1.53 billion for the quarter.

The company is hoping that loosening indoor dining restrictions will help it bounce back, and not just at the Times Square location.

"Capacity restrictions continue to limit [Olive Garden's] top line sales, particularly in key high-volume markets like California and New Jersey, where dining rooms were closed for the majority of the quarter," said Lee.

"Getting California back is going to be huge," he added. "California is a big market for us with high volumes." In California, some counties have restricted indoor dining, while others are allowing it in limited capacities.

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