WASHINGTON — The National Restaurant Association’s Expectations Index, a component of its Restaurant Performance Index (R.P.I.), rose above 100 for the first time in nine months. The Expectations Index measures operator outlook for the next six-months and stood at 100.1 for January, an increase of 0.2% over December.

The R.P.I. itself stood at 98.3 in January, a decline of 0.3% when compared with December.

“Although the current situation indicators remained soft in January, the Expectations Index rose above 100 for the first time in nine months,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice-president of Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. “Restaurant operators are relatively optimistic about improving sales growth and economic conditions in the months ahead, and their capital spending plans rose to the highest level in five months.”

After posting a moderate improvement in December, restaurant operators reported a softening in sales results in January. Twenty-seven per cent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between January 2009 and January 2010, down from 35% of operators who reported higher sales in December. Fifty-seven per cent of operators reported a same-store sales decline in January, up from 49% who reported negative sales in December.

Restaurant operators also reported softer customer traffic results in January. Fifty-four per cent of operators reported a traffic decline in January, up from 47% who reported lower traffic in December.

Capital spending activity in the restaurant industry held relatively steady, with 32% of operators saying they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the past three months, roughly on par with the levels reported by operators in the previous two months.