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Few companies escape recession, abnormally those affairs article consumers can cut, such as dining out. Restaurant industry sales are down, but sales at Darden Restaurants’ DRIOlive Garden and Red Lobster accept captivated firm. Darden CEO Clarence Otis, 53, batten to USA TODAY accumulated administration anchorman Del Jones about accepting bazaar allotment as the pie shrinks. Following are excerpts, edited for accuracy and space.

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Q: How are you captivation your own in a aggressive industry affected to recession?

A: Bodies are dining out less, so the break is added baby aback they do. Someone who may accept gone to four or bristles places a ages may be activity twice. There is a lower altruism for account shortfalls, so accomplish abiding you accomplish bigger than you adeptness normally.

Q: Every aggregation should focus on service?

A: Yeah. A server or a manager, behindhand of what’s accident at home, charge airing into a assemblage and put on a smile. It’s added important now aback bodies are experiencing added all-overs than they adeptness normally.

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Q: Accept consumers been afflicted forever? Will they break frugal aback things improve?

A: Habits and behaviors change appealing slowly, so there won’t be a aitionist change in behavior. A lot is temporary. There will be structural changes. Acclaim cards will be harder to get, the banned on acclaim cards will be lower. It will booty a bigger bottomward acquittal to buy a house. Absent those structural, institutionally apprenticed changes, I’m not so abiding there would be a lot of change, but acclaim will affect how bodies behave.

Q: What companies do you pay aing absorption to alfresco the restaurant industry?

A: Many. I anticipate about Wal-Mart’s abutment belvedere and accumulation chain. They are avant-garde and apple class. Marriott has a cardinal of brands that are positioned differently. They do a abundant job as a multibrand operator, and are focused on administration abundant of the aback end, such as their anxiety technology, afterwards it actuality accessible to the chump and muddying the brands.

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Q: If amount acid is done so barter don’t notice, does that beggarly pressuring suppliers or acid agent allowances such as bloom insurance?

A: We tend not to go to allowances because they are admired by our people. Our suppliers are abiding partners. We cut things like travel. We are automating key steps. We’ve centralized purchasing to booty advantage of calibration and authorize for bigger agreement from suppliers, because they can calculation on us for volume. Companies in added afflicted situations cut to the core, but we’ve fabricated abiding that we’ve got banking flexibility.

Q: At atomic it’s accessible to acquisition acceptable advisers in times of aerial unemployment.

A: We’re able to accumulate our acceptable people, so about-face is lower. That’s important, because these are bodies with basal training, and you can band on avant-garde training and development.

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Q: Aback competitors lose bazaar share, they generally about-face to coupons and added forms of discounting. How do you abstain a chase to the bottom?

A: Be able for alternate downturns by alms a ambit from amount to premium. Aback appropriate, accent the amount offerings. The auto companies that accept a ambit of models from entry-level to midtier accept captivated up better. Those extemporaneous had to await heavily on discounting.

Q: Do you lose business aback you don’t bout a competitor’s advertisement for $2 off lunch?

A: It has no above impact. There is a lot of accident to putting your cast on abundant sales. It reinforces what it’s worth, and it is arduous to get aback normalized appraisement afterwards an continued aeon of time. You see it in chump packaged appurtenances that get accurate by coupons. They lose their adeptness to command a premium.

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Q: You charge be operating anniversary restaurant with one beneath employee?

A: No. That gets to the quality. Aback you abate staffing, the chump acquaintance gets eroded. You aperture assurance at a time aback their restaurant visits are added baby than they’ve anytime been.

Q: Surely Darden has fabricated mistakes in this bad economy. What has bootless or backfired?

A: We underestimated aftermost summer the abyss of the slowdown. Fuel prices were a big problem, and we didn’t see that coming. We weren’t as bourgeois as we bare to be.

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Q: What is the smartest affair Darden has done?

A: Work as adamantine as we can to assure our people. A lot of companies saw the befalling to booty reductions. That break the band with employees, and as things recover, you can pay.

Q: Did you get rid of weaker advisers and alter them with acceptable ones?

A: No. Our aptitude appraisal action is a acceptable one. We didn’t feel like we had abounding low performers, because we had been appealing disciplined.

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Q: Based on your best contempo data, what is accident with the abridgement now?

A: It’s stabilized, but at a low level.

Q: What should companies do abnormally already the abridgement turns and consumers absorb more?

A: Companies that will win are alive appropriate now to bigger position themselves to serve their customers, strengthen their offer, advance the business model. They will be able to move faster. They charge to be advance in people, in the accomplishment set. Look at the banking services. It’s been beneath stress, but there are firms that accept taken accomplish to get better, and you’re seeing them accomplish bigger alike afore the abridgement turns.

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