Senior Vice President, Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer at Darden Restaurants
Thank you, Rick, and good morning, everyone.
Total sales for the fourth quarter were $2.6 billion, 14.2% higher than last year, driven by 11.7% same-restaurant sales growth and the addition of 33 net new restaurants, which included one temporary closure that will reopen in fiscal 2023. Diluted net earnings per share from continuing operations were $2.24. Total EBITDA was $431 million and we returned significant cash to shareholders, paying $137 million in dividends and repurchasing $237 million in shares for a total of $374 million of cash returned to investors in the quarter.
We continue to see increasing cost pressures, with total inflation for the fourth quarter of 7.5%. During the quarter, we took additional pricing to help offset a portion of the growing inflation that brought total pricing to 6% for the quarter and 3% for the full year. This is well below our annual inflation of just over 6%, as we continue to execute our strategy to strengthen our value leadership position.
Turning to the fourth quarter P&L. Compared to pre-COVID, food and beverage expenses were 300 basis points higher, driven by investments in both pricing below inflation and in food quality. For reference, food inflation in Q4 was 12% versus last year. Restaurant labor was 40 basis points lower, driven by hourly labor efficiencies gained from operational simplifications, which were partially offset by continued wage pressures. Total restaurant labor inflation was 7% versus last year, primarily driven by hourly wage inflation of approximately 9%.
Marketing spend was $48 million lower, as we remain disciplined in our approach to marketing activities, resulting in 230 basis points of favorability. G&A expense was 140 basis points lower, driven by our corporate restructuring in fiscal 2021 and sales leverage. As a result, we achieved restaurant level EBITDA margin of 19.9%, 40 basis points above pre-COVID levels and quarterly EBITDA of $431 million. Total EBITDA margin for the quarter was 16.6%, a 170 basis point improvement to pre-COVID.
Our effective tax rate for the quarter was 11.8%. We ended the quarter with earnings from continuing operations of $282 million, which was 10.8% of sales. All of our segments had higher total sales and higher average weekly sales for restaurants. Segment profit dollars were higher for all segments as well. Olive Garden and Fine Dining segments also grew their segment profit margin, while LongHorn and other business segment had lower segment profit margin this quarter, driven by higher level of inflation and other investments in those businesses since pre-COVID.
Fiscal 2022 proved to be another unpredictable year. We experienced strong demand early in the year as capacity restrictions were largely removed. Additionally, we faced reduced demand and staffing challenges as the Delta variant emerged in the fall and the Omicron variant followed in December and January. Finally, inflation increased throughout the year. In fact, our total inflation doubled from our original expectation of 3% to just over 6% for the full year.
Despite all of those challenges, we were able to deliver $9.6 billion in total sales and achieved diluted net earnings per share from continuing operations of $7.40, in line with our internal expectations and at the higher end of our -- the annual guidance we provided at the beginning of the fiscal year. This year's strong top and bottom line performance drove over $1.5 billion in EBITDA from continuing operations, resulting in 15.9% EBITDA margin, nearly 200 basis points higher than pre-COVID. We also invested almost $400 million of capital in the business, returned over $1.6 billion to shareholders and ended the year with $421 million of cash on the balance sheet.
Our strong operating model generates significant cash flows. In fact, since 2017, we've averaged EBITDA growth of 9.5% annually. Our balance sheet is well situated at just 1.8 times debt-to-adjusted EBIDA at the end of fiscal 2022, well below our targeted range of 2 times to 2.5 times and provides us flexibility for the future. This strong balance sheet coupled with our disciplined approach to simplifying operations, underpricing inflation and driving profitable sales growth positions us well for the future.
Finally, turning to our financial outlook for fiscal 2023. We expect total sales of $10.2 billion to $10.4 billion, representing growth of 6% to 8% from last year. Same-restaurant sales growth of 4% to 6%, and 55 to 60 new restaurants. Capital spending of $500 million to $550 million. Total inflation of approximately 6%. And we plan to continue underpricing total inflation with annual pricing of approximately 5%.
Furthermore, we expect commodities inflation of approximately 7%, that's heavily weighted in the first half of the year. Hourly labor inflation of approximately 8%, and annual effective tax rate of approximately 13.5%. And approximately 124 million diluted average shares outstanding for the year, all resulting in diluted net earnings per share between $7.40 and $8.
Heading into 2023, we expect the commodities inflation rate to increase in the first quarter from the 12% we had in Q4 and then to moderate significantly ending the year roughly flat. So due to this significant unusual timing, we would like to provide some context on the cadence of quarterly earnings expectations. With the first quarter commodities inflation in the mid-teens, we expect a low double-digit percentage decline in EPS from last year. For the second quarter, commodities inflation eases a bit to the low double-digit range, resulting in flat EPS to last year. And for the back half of the year, we anticipate low single-digit commodity inflation and positive EPS growth. As a result of our strong performance and our fiscal 2023 outlook, our Board approved a 10% increase to our regular quarterly dividend to $1.21 per share, implying an annual dividend of $4.84. This results in a yield of 4.2% based on yesterday's closing share price.
And with that, I'll turn it back to Rick.