Forget Olive Garden: 5 Tasty Restaurants to Add to Your Investment Menu

In this Tuesday, June 19, 2012 photo, patrons arrive at an Olive Garden restaurant in Huntington Beach, Calif. Fiscal fourth quarter earnings for Darden Restaurants Inc. climbed 10 percent as new restaurant revenue helped balance a decline from established Olive Garden and Red Lobster locations. The Orlando, Fla., company also said Friday, June 22, 2012, it will raise the quarterly dividend it pays shareholders by 16 percent. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
AP, Jae C. Hong

Olive Garden has a problem, and it has nothing to do with how warn the baskets of bread sticks arriving to your table are, or the fettuccine not tasting as fresh to you as it once did.

Darden Restaurants (DRI) -- the parent company of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and LongHorn Steakhouse -- is in a funk; earnings and same-restaurant sales both declined during the fiscal year that ended in May.

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Comps rebounded in Darden's latest quarter, but that rise came at the expense of heavy promotional activity, and profitability took a 12 percent hit.

It's not just Darden. The casual dining industry itself is going through an identity crisis as customers are choosing fresher concepts that give diners the convenience, quality, and value that they desire. Analysts see Darden and Chili's parent Brinker (EAT) growing in the low- to mid-single digits through the next couple of years.

But there are some far more appetizing operators out there.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has been covering the food and restaurants industry for Motley Fool since 1995. He has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings and Darden. Try any of The Motley Fool newsletter services free for 30 days.

Originally published