By Michelle Chapman The Associated Press Darden Restaurants wants to set Red Lobster adrift. The company said Thursday that it is looking to either spin off or sell Red Lobster as part of its plan to boost value for its shareholders. Those plans also include suspending the opening of new Olive Garden locations and limiting the launch of new LongHorn Steakhouses. Darden Restaurants also won't make any acquisitions of additional brands "for the foreseeable future" and will review senior management's compensation and incentive programs to put greater emphasis on same-store restaurant sales growth and free cash flow. Red Lobster has 705 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada and is the biggest full service dining seafood specialty restaurant operator in North America . Its fiscal 2013 sales were about $2.6 billion . Restaurant chains such as Olive Garden and Red Lobster have suffered since the downturn, with customers being more careful about their spending. People also are increasingly heading to chains such as Chipotle, where food tends to cost less and the experience takes less time than a sit-down meal. Darden Chairman and CEO Clarence Otis said Thursday that Red Lobster has been unable to capture high-income customers as much as its other brands have. A separation will give Red Lobster the opportunity to focus more on its core audience. He also said changing market conditions prompted action, noting the "relatively low levels of consumer demand in each of the past several years for restaurants generally, and for casual dining in particular, as well as additional unexpected softness since June." Otis added that the company has been considering its options for Red Lobster for some time and that shareholders wanted changes. The planned Red Lobster spinoff needs final approval from Darden's board. It does not require a shareholder vote. The company expects the possible separation to close in early fiscal 2015.
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