WASHINGTON – The National Restaurant Association’s February Restaurant Performance Index (R.P.I.) stayed above 100 for the fourth consecutive month, indicating an optimistic market outlook amongst restaurant operators. For February, the R.P.I. registered 101.9, an increase of 0.6% compared to January’s level of 101.3.

“Buoyed by continued gains in national employment and an extra day in February as a result of Leap Year, a solid majority of restaurant operators reported positive same-store sales and traffic results,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice-president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the association. “In addition, restaurant operators are bullish about sales growth in the months ahead, while their outlook for the economy remains cautiously optimistic.

“Perhaps the most positive indicator is the optimistic outlook for staffing levels in the months ahead. Only 7% of restaurant operators expect to reduce staffing levels in the next six months, the lowest level in nearly eight years.”

The R.P.I. is designed to be a representation of the restaurant industry and features two components, a current situation index and an expectations index. The current situation index stood at 101.9 in February, an increase of 1.3% when compared to January.

Restaurant operators reported positive same-store sales for the ninth consecutive month in February, bolstered by an extra day in February as a result of Leap Year. Sixty-three per cent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between February 2011 and February 2012, up from 56% who reported a sales gain in January. In comparison, just 18% of operators reported lower same-store sales in February, down from 26% who reported similarly in January.

The expectations index, which measures restaurant operators’ six-month outlook was 102 in February — essentially unchanged from January’s level of 102.1. February marked the sixth consecutive month that the expectations index stood above 100, which represents an optimistic outlook among restaurant operators for business conditions in the months ahead.