Wait Times at Casual U.S. Restaurants Flat

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New York-Average waits for a table at casual diningchains were little changed compared with a year ago, a monthlysurvey showed, though higher traffic at steakhouses showed U.S.consumers are shrugging off concerns about the first U.S. case ofmad cow disease.

The average wait time at 200 casual dining restaurants on theevening of January 23 was 28 minutes, compared with 28.3 minuteslast year, according to Smith Barney analyst Mark Kalinowski, whoconducts the poll. Longer wait times are considered good for therestaurant industry, since they indicate stronger demand.

Average wait times fell at Darden Restaurants Inc.'s OliveGarden, Red Lobster,and Smokey Bones BBQ chains. But Kalinowskinoted that the 9 percent decline in average wait times to 27.6minutes at Red Lobster, which has been struggling to draw incustomers for the last year, is the smallest in five months.California Pizza Kitchen Inc. and Ruby Tuesday Inc. were among therestaurants that posted the biggest gains in average wait times.-Reuters

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