A message to all team members from Gene Lee, President & CEO of Darden Restaurants:
As you know, over the last week we had to close our dining rooms, which fundamentally changed our business. While this created uncertainty, confusion and complication, all of you responded the way I would expect from the leaders in full-service dining: With passion, poise and a standard of perfection.
I am incredibly proud of how we have managed the significant amount of change. Each one of our brands quickly pivoted to ToGo — coming up with creative offerings and adopting enhanced safety precautions to further protect our team members and guests, including providing no-contact curbside pickup. Our restaurant teams are redefining what it means to deliver exceptional ToGo experiences for our guests. The leadership team continues to react quickly, while our team at the Restaurant Support Center is narrowing their focus to help our restaurants navigate this new reality.
Collectively, we are keeping the spirit of Darden burning bright.
However, the reality of closing our dining rooms means that many of our hourly restaurant team members are not getting the hours they need. We remain committed to supporting all of you, which is why I am pleased to announce that we are extending our Emergency Pay Program, adding a third week of 50 percent pay for our hourly team members who cannot work during this time.
We are also actively engaging with leaders in Washington as they craft legislation to help the country deal with this situation. Our goal is to help these leaders understand the uniqueness of our business so the solutions they create will support our workforce.
At the RSC, we are locked in to the needs of the business as it exists today. To that end, we have begun redeploying team members whose roles are temporarily disrupted to help drive our ToGo business across every one of our brands. While people’s workloads may look different, our ability to successfully adapt will not only strengthen our business, it will allow us to provide much needed dining options for the communities we serve.
Additionally, I am encouraging more team members at the RSC to work from home. Social distancing — a phrase that I heard for the first time only a couple weeks ago — remains critically important. As our restaurant teams have demonstrated, redefining how we work just takes commitment and flexibility. I am confident that our teams at the support center will easily adjust to remain engaged, aligned and committed to delivering exceptional support to our restaurants from the safety of their home.
As I wrote last week, there is nothing more comforting than sharing a meal around the table with the ones you love. Thank you for continuing to play an important role in bringing comfort to our guests. Serving people the food they crave to enjoy with the ones they love has always been the spirit of Darden. Together, we will keep it burning bright.
A message from Gene Lee, President & CEO of Darden Restaurants:
We serve … we serve our guests … we serve our communities … we serve each other. No matter the challenges I’ve faced in my 42-year restaurant career, I’ve always found the right answer when I come back to the fundamental truth: Our entire industry is built on an unwavering commitment to serve.
This challenge is no different. Every day we face an evolving reality, and I ask myself, what does it mean to serve?
Today, that means closing all of our dining rooms that are permitted to remain open at the close of business today.
The health and safety of our guests and team members has always been our first priority. And while we have taken extraordinary measures to keep our restaurants safe, after thoughtful conversations with my executive team, government leaders and many of you, I believe the best way we serve today is by focusing completely on providing our guests the comfort of knowing a home-cooked meal is just a call or click away.
This decision will affect the ability for even more of our restaurant team members to get the hours they need and deserve. Though it will not be enough to make everyone whole, our Emergency Pay Program — specifically designed to support our dedicated, hourly team members — will begin next week.
The situation we are all facing demands that those who can serve, need to continue to do so. For us that means preparing warm, delicious and comforting food to feed the people in the communities we call home. Our supply chain is strong — we have been in discussion with all of our major suppliers, and they are confident that they can continue to supply our restaurants with safe, consistent goods to maintain service to our guests.
Each one of our brands have quickly pivoted to enhance their ToGo offering. Additionally, we are taking enhanced safety precautions to further protect our team members and guests, including providing no-contact and limited-contact curbside pickup.
Finally, the team at the Restaurant Support Center continues to pursue ways to preserve cash. We are determined to get through this so that someday soon, we can get our team members back to work as we welcome our loyal guests into our restaurants once again.
Thank you for your commitment to our guests and each other. And for being part of this industry that is essential to our communities. My confidence in our future is unwavering, even as the decisions I am faced with get more difficult.
A message to all team members from Gene Lee, President & CEO of Darden Restaurants:
Last week I wrote that we will navigate this challenging situation together, one day at a time. And while every day we are hit with a new, sobering reality, we are still in this — together.
I want to start by reminding everyone that our first priority remains the health and safety of our guests and team members. Please be sure that you are taking the time to properly take care of yourself, your family and each other.
This past week, numerous state and local governments created mandates that are designed to protect the public through social distancing. These have dramatically impacted our ability to operate. As of this morning, nearly 80 percent of our restaurants have been closed, had their capacity restricted or have been ordered to only offer ToGo. This has had a direct impact on nearly 150,000 of our restaurant team members.
As we have been navigating this unprecedented situation, the executive team and I are making decisions guided by our commitment to support our team members and our duty to come through this stronger than we entered.
To support our hourly restaurant team members, we introduced Paid Sick Leave last week, and just yesterday, we rolled out an Emergency Pay Program for those impacted by COVID-19. While I am proud of the decisions we have made, I am heartbroken at the realization that this will not be enough as many of our team members are unexpectedly making less money today than they did last month.
In order for us to see this situation through and come back stronger, our focus must be on preserving our cash. To that end, we are deferring nearly all of our capital spending, including opening new restaurants. Additionally, we are securing more than $750 million from our credit facility to shore up our cash balance, resulting in $1 billion on our balance sheet. We also made the decision to suspend our quarterly cash dividend.
Finally, we are significantly reducing non-essential spending. While we have identified opportunities to preserve cash across every brand and department, we need the help and support of each and every member of the Darden family. As a start, effective this week, I am forgoing my salary until we are through this situation.
Even with all these actions, we still must face the reality of our business. We heavily rely on cash coming into our restaurants every day. Given our inability to fully operate our restaurants, we have a finite amount of time before our cash runs out. Even with $1 billion of cash on our balance sheet, this will be reduced significantly as we pay our suppliers for purchases we already made. Additionally, based on our sales today, we are operating with a significant cash loss. And if we face a complete shutdown, we will spend $40-$50 million a week. There is a limit to how long we can operate.
One concern you have likely faced in the last week is the security of your job. Though hours for our restaurant teams have been greatly reduced, we are not at a place today where I have to make these gut-wrenching decisions. However, while the executive team and I are doing everything we can to ensure I never have to, I may soon be faced with making decisions that affect your job. My promise to you is that should this measure need to be taken, it will be one of last resort, and only done to preserve Darden’s future.
I recognize that what I have written here is not enough. You have more questions, and you deserve more answers. But the reality is that there is still so much we do not know. So let me leave you with what I do know …
// There is nothing more comforting than sharing a meal around the table with the ones you love.
// There is no industry I would rather be in than one that serves others.
// Our communities need restaurants.
// Our guests are still craving our perfectly baked breadsticks, thick juicy steaks and homemade chicken tenders.
// Someday soon, our doors will reopen and pent-up demand will fill our dining rooms once again.
// We have the best team members in the world who live to delight our guests and serve our communities.
And finally, I know we will get through this — together.
We value the trust you place in our restaurants every day, and we are committed to doing what is right for our guests and team members. That is why we wanted to share with you how we are taking care of our guests and team members in response to COVID-19 (coronavirus).
Protecting Your Dining Experience
As always, we remain dedicated to providing you with the safest dining experience possible. Earlier this month, we expanded our already strict cleaning procedures, which exceed Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines. We are providing hand sanitizer stations in lobbies. We are practicing social distancing by keeping greater distances between our tables. All surfaces are being deep cleaned with CDC-approved disinfectant.
Caring for Those Who Care for You
We are proud of our 190,000 team members for the support they are providing to our communities. One of the most important things we can do is to care for those who care for you. Recently, we rolled out a paid sick leave policy to every one of our hourly team members, so they can stay at home until they feel better while still being compensated.
Informing Our Decisions
We have assembled a dedicated team of experts who are in close contact with the CDC and other government agencies. They are actively monitoring the situation so we can respond swiftly to changing conditions.
It is a privilege to be a part of your community, and as we navigate these times together, we are grateful for your trust.