WASHINGTON -- Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $604 billion and post positive growth in 2011 after a three-year period of negative real sales growth, according to National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry Forecast. The report projects an industry sales increase of 3.6% over 2010 sales, which equals 1.1% in real (inflation-adjusted) terms, according to the N.R.A.

“As the national economy is slowly improving, the restaurant industry is climbing out of its most challenging period in decades to post positive real sales growth in 2011,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice-president of the N.R.A.’s Research and Knowledge Group. “As in 2010, restaurant industry job growth is expected to outpace the national economy this year, emphasizing the importance of industry to the nation’s economy.”

The quick-service restaurant segment is projected to post slightly stronger sales growth than the full-service segment, according to the N.R.A. Quick-service restaurants are projected to post sales of $167.7 billion this year, a gain of 3.3% over 2010. Sales at full-service restaurants are projected to reach $194.6 billion in 2011, an increase of 3.1% in current dollars over 2010.