Restaurant operators remain optimistic

by Keith Nunes
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Restaurant operators said they are increasingly optimistic about sales growth in the months ahead.

WASHINGTON — While difficult weather conditions weakened restaurant performance in February, operators who participated in the National Restaurant Association’s monthly Restaurant Performance Index survey indicated they are optimistic about prospects for the coming months.

“With same-store sales and customer traffic levels being impacted by challenging weather conditions in parts of the country, the current situation component of the R.P.I. declined in February,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice-president of the N.R.A.’s Research and Knowledge Group. “However, this was offset by a solid improvement in the expectations component of the index, as restaurant operators are increasingly optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead. As a result, the overall R.P.I. held relatively steady in February.”

For the month, the R.P.I. stood at 102.6, down slightly from 102.7 in January.

The R.P.I. is comprised of two components, the expectations index, which measures the six-month outlook of restaurant operators, and the current situation index, which tracks the recent performance of the businesses. In February, the R.P.I.’s expectations index stood at 103.3, up 0.5% from January’s level of 102.8.

Operators said they are increasingly optimistic about sales growth in the months ahead. Fifty-nine per cent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), up from 57% who reported similarly last month. In contrast, only 4% of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, unchanged from last month.

Operators are also generally optimistic about the direction of the overall economy.  Thirty-seven per cent said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, up slightly from 35% last month. Eleven per cent expect economic conditions to worsen in six months, while the remaining 52% expect economic conditions in six months to be about the same as they are now.

The R.P.I.’s current situation index was 102 in February, down from a level of 102.7 in January. Although sales were dampened by weather conditions in parts of the country, a majority of restaurant operators reported higher same-store sales in February. Sixty per cent of operators reported a same-store sales gain between February 2014 and February 2015, down from 70% who reported higher sales in January. Twenty-four per cent of operators reported a same-store sales decline in February, up from 17% in January.

Restaurant operators also reported reduced customer traffic in February.  Forty-seven per cent said they saw an increase in customer traffic between February 2014 and February 2015, down from 66% who reported higher traffic in January.  Thirty-two per cent of operators said their traffic declined in February, up from 21% who reported similarly in January.

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