WASHINGTON — Stable restaurant sales through July may indicate an improving industry and a bigger demand for restaurant dining. The National Restaurant Association here pointed to a preliminary U.S. Census Bureau July report indicating that eating and drinking sales were $40.9 billion for the month, a record high that was first reached in June. Overall retail sales for July increased 0.5%.
The Census Bureau sales numbers were adjusted for seasonal variation, but not for price changes. Average restaurant sales for the first half of 2011 also showed improvement. From January to July, restaurant food and beverage sales increased 5.1%, grocery store sales increased 5.6% and overall retail sales rose 8.2%.
Food price inflation may be contributing to these gains, but industry groups say that sales show the industry is moving in the right direction.
The positive sales trend indicates pent-up demand for dining out, even as consumers still carefully watch discretionary-dollar spending, Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the association's Research and Knowledge Group, said in a release. NRA's chief economist, Bruce Grindy, agreed, while describing the growth as somewhat soft.
“Right now it's good for the industry, but not great,” Grindy said. “Everything depends on what happens with the economy in the months ahead.”