The outlook for the restaurant industry improved in March, as the National Restaurant Association’s comprehensive index of restaurant activity rose for the third consecutive month.
The Association’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry.
â€˜There are clear signs of improvement,â€™ said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research and Information Services for the Association. â€˜Restaurant operators reported a positive six-month economic outlook for the first time in 18 months.â€™
Due in part to Easter falling in April rather than March this year, restaurant operators reported negative same-store sales for the tenth consecutive month in March. Twenty-four percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between March 2008 and March 2009, down from 29 percent who reported a sales gain in February. Sixty-three percent of operators reported a same-store sales decline in March, up from 56 who reported negative sales in February.
Restaurant operators also reported negative customer traffic levels for the 19th consecutive month in March. Twenty percent of restaurant operators reported an increase in customer traffic between March 2008 and March 2009, compared to 22 percent who reported similarly in February. Sixty-three percent of operators reported a traffic decline in March, up from 59 percent who reported similarly in February.
For the first time in 18 months, a higher proportion of restaurant operators said they expect the economy to improve in six months, as compared to the percent who expect economic conditions to worsen. Thirty percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, up from 22 percent who reported similarly last month and the highest level in 21 months. In comparison, only 21 percent of operators expect economic conditions to worsen in six months, down sharply from 36 percent last month.
As the outlook for the economy improved, so too did operators’ plans for capital expenditure activity in the months ahead. Forty-four percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, the highest level since July 2008.
More detailed data and analysis can be found on Restaurant TrendMapper, the Association’s subscription-based Web site that provides detailed analysis of restaurant industry trends.