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CHICAGO ( -- Darden Restaurants bounced back from a weak December to report improved earnings for its third quarter ended Feb. 25. Sales for the period were up 7.7% to $988.6
Worried about the economy but still eating seafood.
million from $917.5 million from a year ago. The company said comparable sales at its Red Lobster and Olive Garden restaurants drove its positive results.

"We were able to rebound from difficult weather challenges in December with a very strong January and February," said Joe R. Lee, Darden chairman and CEO. "Our excellent performance this quarter, despite a more uncertain economic environment, is a testament to the power of the positive long-term trends fueling the growth of casual dining."

Olive Garden posted a 5.6% increase in same-store sales that the company said followed three promotions, including its "Chicken Scampi" effort.

Red Lobster reported a 5.5% same-restaurant sales increase -- its best third-quarter period in five years following a December socked by bad weather.

'A pound of crab'
"We came back strong in January with the 'A Pound of Crab for $10.99' promotion and our Crazy Legs advertising campaign," said a spokesman. "In January we led the entire casual-dining segment in monthly same-restaurant sales, and we were double the casual-dining industry average for same-store sales increases, according to Knapp Track," he added.

The chain is still searching for a replacement for a chief marketer after Wyman Roberts left the company in January to become executive vice president marketing-chief marketing officer of the Universal Studios Recreation Group.

The company also continued expanding its newer concepts. Darden opened new Bahama Breeze units in four cities, with seven more under construction. Its Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar chain added three restaurants since the prior quarter, with two more expected to open later in the fiscal year.

The share price for the $4 billion company closed down today 15 cents at $23.02.

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