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Amid activist pressure Darden cancels investor meeting

A man talks on his mobile phone in front of the Times Square Olive Garden in New York, June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Keith Bedford
A man talks on his mobile phone in front of the Times Square Olive Garden in New York, June 23, 2010. REUTERS/Keith Bedford

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Darden Restaurants Inc 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 restaurant chains, ranging from Olive Garden to Capital Grille.

Rather than holding the meeting, which was scheduled for March 28, Darden, the biggest operator of full-service restaurant chains in terms of outlets, will meet individually with analysts and investors, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

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

Barington Capital Group LP has been pushing Darden to put its more-mature Olive Garden and Red Lobster brands into one company, and its higher-growth chains, including LongHorn Steakhouse and Capital Grille, into another.

It also wants the company to create a publicly traded real estate investment trust (REIT) to unlock the value of its property holdings.

On Monday Darden reiterated its plan to spin off or sell Red Lobster seafood chain, rebuffing Barington and Starboard Value LP, another activist investor pressuring Darden to rethink its plans for the Red Lobster.

Starboard, which owns 5.5 percent of Darden shares, said in late February that the plan to spin off Red Lobster should be delayed and put to a shareholder vote. Barington, which has a stake of about 2 percent, said it agreed.

Darden shares fell nearly 1 percent to $48.18, not far from a 52-week low of $44.78.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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