After casual-dining sales plummeted earlier this year in the worst three-month performance since 2010, talk among chain operators took a sobering turn. In first-quarter presentations before analysts, executives at many of the nation’s largest publicly traded casual-dining chains began speaking openly about something industry observers have said privately for years: The rules that built such casual-dining juggernauts as Chili’s Grill & Bar and Olive Garden no longer ...

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