WASHINGTON—The restaurant industry is projected to increase 3.5% over 2011 numbers, with total foodservice sales expected to reach a record high of $632 billion in 2012, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast.
“As our nation slowly recovers from the economic downturn, restaurants continue to be a vital part of American lifestyles and our nation’s economy," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “We expect the nation’s nearly 1 million restaurants to post sales of $632 billion this year. Combine that with the fact that restaurant job growth is expected to outpace the overall economy for the 13th straight year, and it’s clear that the restaurant industry is once again proving to be a significant economic stimulant and strong engine for job creation."
According to the report, giving consumers what they want will be crucial for restaurant operators in 2012. Since the recession caused 8 out of 10 consumers to cut back on spending to some degree, it is more important than ever for operators to nudge those guests into patronizing their restaurants. Food quality, customer service quality and value are the top attributes consumers look for when choosing a restaurant; for QSRs restaurants, customers are looking for food quality, value and speed of service when picking where to dine.
When it comes to food, the top menu trends are all about local sourcing and nutrition, especially kids’ nutrition. Nearly three-quarters of consumers are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items, and more than half of all restaurants currently offer locally sourced produce. Similarly, nearly 75% of consumers are trying to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago, and a majority of restaurants agree that customers are ordering more such items.
The report noted while the industry is expected to grow in 2012, the top challenges cited by restaurateurs are food costs, building and maintaining sales volume, and the economy.
“Because about one-third of sales in a restaurant go to food and beverage purchases, food prices are a crucial component for operators," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s Research and Knowledge group. “Last year, we saw wholesale food prices post their strongest annual increase in more than three decades. In 2012, we will see continued increases in the cost of some commodities, while price pressures will ease for others."
However, opportunities are present for operators to be successful by understanding and leveraging consumer trends to attract new guests and make current ones come back. The good news is, there is substantial pent-up demand for restaurant services, with 2 out of 5 consumers saying they are not using restaurants as often as they would like. However, that demand can translate into sales with the right incentive.