Chief Financial Officer at Darden Restaurants
Thank you, Rick and good morning everyone. Before I get into our results for the quarter, I want to expand on Gene and Rick's comments regarding the impact of Omicron and winter weather on our third quarter result. When looking at the fiscal months, actual sales for December and February were close to our internal expectations that were contemplated in the financial outlook we provided in December and we met our profitability expectations in December and exceeded them in February.
In fiscal January, however, we were significantly below our sales and profitability expectation, as COVID cases surged causing increased staffing shortages and reduced demand. We also experienced more severe winter weather than historical averages. As a result, sales were negatively impacted by over $100 million. This sales down -- slowdown coupled with additional expenses related to sick pay over time and increased inflation negatively impacted EPS by approximately $0.30 and was more than 100 basis points drag on EBITDA margins for this quarter.
Now turning to the detailed results for the quarter. Total sales for third quarter were $2.4 billion, 41% higher than last year, driven by 38% same restaurant sales growth and the addition of 33 net new restaurants. Diluted net earnings per share from continuing operations were $1.93. Total EBITDA was $395 million, resulting in EBITDA margin of 16.1%, 50 basis points better than pre-COVID. We continued to return significant cash to shareholders, paying $141 million in dividends and repurchasing $382 million in share for a total of over $520 million cash returned to investors in the quarter.
We ended the quarter with $555 million of cash on the balance sheet. We continue to see increasing cost pressure with inflation -- with total inflation of 7% this quarter, which was higher than our previous expectation. As I mentioned last quarter, we began taking additional pricing in the third quarter and have also implemented additional actions to further preserve the strength of our business model, while balancing the impact to our guests.
For the third quarter, total pricing was 3.7% and for the fourth quarter, we expect our pricing to be approximately 6% compared to last year. As a result, we now expect pricing to be just over 3% for the full fiscal year. This is well below our updated total inflation expectations of 6% for the year, as we continue to execute our strategy of pricing below overall inflation to strengthen our value leadership position.
Turning to our P&L and segment performance for the third quarter. We are comparing against pre COVID results in the third quarter of 2020 which we believe are more comparable to normal business operations and with how we've been framing our margin expansion opportunity. For the third quarter, food and beverage expenses were 270 basis points higher, driven by elevated commodities inflation, as well as investments in food quality, portion size and pricing significantly below inflation.
Our commodity inflation this quarter was 11%. Restaurant labor was 50 basis points higher, driven by wage inflation, higher sick pay and over time expense as a result of Omicron. Hourly wage inflation during the quarter was just over 9%. Restaurant labor as a percent of sales in fiscal December and February was better than pre-COVID as these months did not experience the same scale of headwind from Omicron.
Restaurant expenses were 80 basis points lower as our teams continued to manage controllable expenses. Marketing spend was $44 million lower, resulting in 190 basis points of favorability. As a result, restaurant level EBITDA margin for Darden was 19.4%, 50 basis points below pre-COVID levels for the quarter. However, both in December and February restaurant level EBITDA margins grew by almost 100 basis points compared to pre-COVID.
G&A expense was 90 basis points lower, driven by savings from the corporate restructuring in fiscal 2021, a decrease in mark-to-market expense, lower travel expenses and sales leverage. Turning to our segment performance, sales and segment profit margin significantly increased versus last year for all of our segments. As we compare to pre-COVID, all segments other than Olive Garden grew sales. Olive Garden sales were slightly lower due to disproportionate impact Olive Garden experienced from the significant increase in COVID cases. This is because Olive Garden's geographic footprint and guest demographic make it more sense due to COVID case count.
Additionally, Olive Garden continues to have significantly less marketing and promotional activity, which is a headwind to sales growth when comparing to pre-COVID. The January impact from Omicron I discussed earlier resulted in all of our segments experiencing lower segment profit margin in the quarter relative to pre-COVID.
Finally turning to our financial outlook for fiscal 2022, we upgraded our outlook for the full-year to reflect our performance year-to-date and our expected performance for the fourth quarter. We now expect total sales of $9.55 billion to $9.62 billion, driven by same restaurant sales growth of 29% to 30% and approximately 35 new restaurants.
Capital spending of approximately $425 million, total inflation of approximately 6%, with commodities inflation of approximately 9% and total restaurant labor inflation between 6% and 6.5%, which includes hourly wage inflation approaching 9%. EBITDA of $1.53 billion to $1.55 billion, an annual effective tax rate of approximately 13.5% and approximately 129 million diluted average shares outstanding for the year. All resulting in diluted net earnings per share between USD7.30 and USD7.45.
This outlook implies full year EBITDA margin growth versus pre-COVID of roughly 200 basis points, still within our previous expected range. This outlook also implies fourth quarter sales between USD2.52 billion and USD2.59 billion and EPS between USD2.13 and USD2.28, which is higher than what was contemplated in the previous outlook we provided in December. As Gene said, our quarter-to-date average weekly sales are slightly ahead of February and that is incorporated in this guidance.
Looking forward to fiscal 2023, we're providing some preliminary guidance for a few items. We expect to open approximately 60 new units in fiscal 2023. We project total capital spending between USD500 million and $550 million. We anticipate an effective tax rate of approximately 14% for fiscal 2023.
Now I will turn it back to Gene.