Ad Critic Leaves Helm of Red Lobster

CHICAGO Darden Restaurants president and chief operating officer Dick Rivera, who oversaw the restaurant group’s Red Lobster locations, has resigned as the seafood chain’s sales continue to slump, the company said.

Joe Lee, chairman and chief executive officer of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden, has assumed operating responsibilities for Darden and Red Lobster, with a new president expected to be named by May, the company said.

The company on Tuesday reported Red Lobster same-store sales fell 12-13 percent in December, continuing a pattern that began last spring following 23 quarters of higher same-store sales.

Rivera in December blamed advertising for the slump. Havas’ Euro RSCG Tatham Partners in Chicago has held the $75 million account for the past five years.

Tatham in July launched a new campaign for the chain tagged “Share the love.” That tagline has been dropped from advertising as client executives re-examined their marketing strategies.

The resignation is the second major executive change at Red Lobster in recent months. Late last year the chain named former Burger King executive Kim Lopdrup as executive vice president of marketing.