U.S. Restaurant Sales Projected to Rise 4%

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ROCKVILLE, Md.—U.S. consumers are relaxing their purse strings and dining out more often, according to a new Packaged Facts report that projects restaurant sales to row 4.2% to $487 million in 2012, on the heels of 6.1% market growth in 2011.

According to “The Foodservice Landscape in the U.S.: Restaurant Industry and Consumer Trends, 2nd Edition" report, although moderate restaurant industry growth is projected for 2012 and 2013, operators must continue to experiment aggressively with menu pricing strategies and focus on courting minority racial/ethnic groups-and prepare for profit margin compression.

Continuing a trend that gathered momentum in 2011, many operators will need to maintain menu prices at the expense of higher margins or risk losing customers. The report notes food commodity price increases could set the restaurant industry back, threatening the modest sales recovery seen in 2010 and 2011.

Consumer spending is rising modestly, and  food and accommodations spending is outpacing other personal consumption expenditures. The number of restaurant visits grew by 3% during 2008 to 2011, based entirely on population growth, not usage increase. Restaurant operators across restaurant segments contend with the increased numbers of lower-spending guests and decreased numbers of higher-income guests that has translated to higher volume, but lower guest check averages.

Full-service restaurants posted the highest growth rate (8.1%), while fine dining had a moderate rebound in 2011. Growth in the restaurant breakfast (5%) and snack (8%) customers outpaced population growth since 2008, and the overall percentage of consumers using restaurants for these occasions has increased-although the reverse trend holds among Generation X. Consumers age 65 or over are spending significantly more (13%) on limited-service restaurants than they did in 2007, while Millennials are spending significantly more on limited-service restaurants as well as full-service restaurants.

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