Restaurant Industry Forecasts Growth in 2012

WASHINGTON — Total U.S. restaurant industry sales will reach a record high of $632 billion this year, representing a 3.5% increase over 2011, and marking the second consecutive year that industry sales have topped $600 million, according to The National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast, released Wednesday.

“As our nation slowly recovers from the economic downturn, restaurants continue to be a vital part of American lifestyles and our nation’s economy,” Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer of the National Restaurant Association, said in a release. “We expect the nation’s nearly one 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.”

Despite the promising outlook, restaurateurs cited rising food costs, the sluggish economy, and building and maintaining sales volume as the top challenges they expect to face this year. The release notes that opportunities are still present for operators who understand and respond to consumer trends. Citing recent consumer research, the association points out that two out of five consumers have said that they are not using restaurants as often as they would like. Tech-savvy restaurants could also have an edge on competitors.

Nearly 4 in 10 diners said they would be likely to use an electronic ordering system or menu if it were available at table service restaurants. About half said they would like to use at-table electronic payment options, or use a restaurant’s smartphone app to view menus and make reservations.

At quickservice restaurants, four out of 10 diners said they would use in-store self-service ordering kiosks or use smartphone apps to look at menus, order delivery, or place online orders for pick up.