Restaurant performance impeded by weather in February

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — Poor weather throughout the month of February hindered customer traffic and pushed the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index down to 100.5 in February compared to 100.7 in January.

“Restaurant operators continued to report net positive same-store sales results in February, despite customer traffic levels that were challenged by the weather,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice-president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association. “Looking forward, operators are generally optimistic about sales gains in the months ahead, although they aren’t as bullish about the overall economy.”

The R.P.I.’s current situation index, which is comprised of four indicators — same store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures — fell to 99.3 in February from 99.5 in January. Although results were mixed in February, restaurant operators reported net positive same-store sales for the twelfth consecutive month. Forty-four per cent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between February 2013 and February 2014, while 37% reported a sales decline. February marked the third consecutive month in which fewer than half of restaurant operators reported higher same-store sales.

In contrast, restaurant operators reported a net decline in customer traffic for the third consecutive month. Thirty-five per cent of restaurant operators reported customer traffic growth between February 2013 and February 2014, while 43% of operators reported a traffic decline. In January, 33% of operators reported higher customer traffic levels, while 50% reported a decline.

The R.P.I.’s expectations index, which measures restaurant operators’ six-month outlook for four industry indicators (same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions), stood at 101.7 in February — down slightly from January’s level of 101.8. Restaurant operators remain cautiously optimistic about sales growth in the months ahead, according to the survey.

Forty per cent expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), essentially unchanged from 41% who reported similarly last month.  Meanwhile, 11% expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, while 49% expect their sales to remain about the same.

Restaurant operators are somewhat less bullish about the direction of the economy.  Twenty-nine per cent said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, while 16% expect the economy to worsen. The remaining 55% expect economic conditions to remain generally unchanged in the next six months.
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