Darden Restaurants Announces National Expansion Of Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar

June 21, 2001

ORLANDO, Fla., June 21 -- Darden Restaurants, Inc. (NYSE: DRI) today announced it will begin national expansion of Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar, a casual dining restaurant concept featuring great tasting barbecue and exciting sports viewing action. Since opening the first restaurant in September 1999, Darden has tested a total of nine restaurants in eight different markets located in Florida, the Midwest and Northeast. Each restaurant has opened to large, enthusiastic crowds and received positive acclaim from critics and consumers alike.

"We are excited about the tremendous opportunity we see in Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar," said Joe R. Lee, Darden's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "Smokey Bones passed every test with flying colors from the first restaurant opening in Orlando in September 1999 to our most recent openings in Detroit and St. Louis. Guest response has been fantastic. Sales have exceeded our expectations in every market and the financial dynamics of this concept are compelling. Our New Business team has once again created a concept that is unique and that responds to sustaining consumer demand. Long- term, we feel this business has the potential to achieve the size of Olive Garden or Red Lobster and we will expand it in a disciplined manner."

Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar is an energetic casual dining restaurant that combines barbecue style food with a sports bar environment in a mountain lodge decor. Darden reported that the concept has shown broad appeal across demographics and geography. The menu contains a variety of barbecue favorites such as pulled pork, baby back ribs, chicken, beef brisket and smoked St. Louis style ribs. Scattered throughout the restaurant interior are 40 televisions broadcasting a variety of sports and other entertainment. The dining room is anchored by a large, full-service bar featuring premium brands, a variety of wines and 30 different types of beer by the bottle or on draught. A typical restaurant size is approximately 8,000 sq. feet with seating capacity for over 250 people.

"Smokey Bones is a fun concept and it combines the best of great barbecue and broadcast entertainment," said Blaine Sweatt, President of the New Business Division. "Our research told us that the combination of barbecue and sports in a relaxed environment would have broad appeal. We were also looking to provide an occasion that does not compete with those offered at Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Bahama Breeze. Smokey Bones is delivering on each of these objectives. To make sure it continues to excel as it expands, we have an experienced leadership team in place, supported by a fully developed infrastructure for operations supervision, employee selection and training and financial control."

Smokey Bones is headed by 30-year Darden veteran Bob Mock, who joined the concept as President in late 1999. Prior to assuming leadership of Smokey Bones, Mock was Executive Vice President of Operations at Olive Garden, where he helped Brad Blum, Olive Garden's President, reinvigorate the Italian casual dining restaurant company. He began his career as a dishwasher in one of the first Red Lobster restaurants in 1969.

"I am thrilled about where we can take this business," said Bob Mock. "We're off to a great start and the entire team is enthusiastic about moving to national expansion. We anticipate opening another eight to ten restaurants in fiscal 2002, doubling our current size. Our vision is simple -- we want to be known for the friendliness of our people, who serve great tasting barbecue in an energetic atmosphere to every guest, every time."

Darden Restaurants, Inc., headquartered in Orlando, FL, owns and operates Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Smokey Bones BBQ Sports Bar restaurants with annual sales of over $4 billion. Forward-looking statements in this news release, if any, are made under the Safe Harbor provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Certain important factors could cause results to differ materially from those anticipated by the forward-looking statements, including the impact of changing economic or business conditions, the impact of competition, the availability of favorable credit and trade terms, the impact of changes in the cost or availability of food and real estate, government regulation, construction costs, weather conditions and other factors discussed from time to time in reports filed by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission.