TOP RED LOBSTER RESTAURANT CHAIN EXECUTIVE QUITS

Dick Rivera Leaves; Company Announces 13% Sales Decline

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Dick Rivera, Darden Restaurants' president-COO and interim president of its troubled Red Lobster chain, has resigned to pursue "entrepreneurial opportunities," according to the company.

Mr. Rivera becomes the latest in a string

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of executives to leave the company in recent months.

Mr. Rivera's duties are being taken over by Darden Chairman-CEO Joe Lee. The company said it plans to name a new Red Lobster president by the end of May and is considering internal and external candidates for the post.

Sales down 13%
Darden today posted same-restaurant sales results for the five-week December fiscal month ended Dec. 28, 2003, which is also the first month of Darden's fiscal 2004 third quarter. Comparable store sales at Red Lobster fell 12% to 13% for the period, reflecting a 1% to 2% increase in check average and a 14% to 15% decline in guest counts. For the same period last year, Red Lobster had a 2% to 3% increase in same-store sales.

Impact on ad agency
It is not clear whether or how Mr. Rivera's departure might affect the chain's relationship with its ad agency, Havas' Euro RSCG Tatham Partners, Chicago, with which Mr. Rivera had a close relationship. The company spokesman would not comment on the issue.

Last month, the chain said it was considering changing its "Share the Love" marketing theme after the casual seafood restaurant chain reported its first quarterly same-store sales decline in 24 quarters.

Original Red Lobster
Mr. Rivera joined Darden in 1997. He was promoted to his current post in March 2002, and assumed the Red Lobster presidency in September when Edna Morris resigned.

According to a Darden spokesman, Mr. Rivera, who also is a member of the Orlando, Fla.-based company's board of directors, announced his decision to management over the holidays. He will consult with the company during a transition period.

"Darden is a great organization and I've enjoyed my time there," Mr. Rivera said in a statement. "I'm looking forward to my next opportunity."

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