Restaurant Industry Predicts First Year For Growth In Three Years

The restaurant industry will have its best year since before the economic downturn, with real sales growth turning positive and job growth accelerating, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast that was released Tuesday.

"As the national economy is slowly improving, the restaurant industry is climbing out of its most challenging period in decades to post positive real sales growth in 2011," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research and knowledge group for the National Restaurant Association in a prepared statement. "As in 2010, restaurant industry job growth is expected to outpace the national economy this year, emphasizing the importance of industry to the nation's economy."

Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach a record $604 billion this year, a 3.6 percent increase over 2010 sales, which equals 1.1 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms.

As the nation's largest private sector employer, the restaurant industry will employ 12.8 million people this year. The industry will add jobs at a rate of 2.4 percent, compared with the 1.8 percent expected for the national economy. In the next decade, restaurants will add 1.3 million positions.

"The U.S. restaurant industry is an economic juggernaut whose annual sales are larger than 90 percent of the world's economies – if it were a country, it would rank as the 18th largest economy in the world. While pockets of challenges remain, we are looking forward to a brighter future in 2011," Riehle said.

The nation's 960,000 restaurants will continue to be strong contributors to the recovery of the nation's economy, with a total economic impact exceeding $1.7 trillion; every dollar spent in restaurants generates $2.05 spent in the overall economy.

Consumers today spend 49 percent of their food budget in the restaurant community, compared with only 25 percent in 1955. The economic downturn has created a substantial pent-up demand for restaurant services – more than two out of five consumers say they are not dining out or using takeout as often as they would like – which positions the restaurant industry for growth in 2011.

The 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast is available for free to Association members.