Restaurants eye holiday shoppers

WASHINGTON Restaurateurs are hoping that a projected increase in the number of shoppers seeking bargains over the upcoming Black Friday weekend will help to energize lagging foodservice sales.

But while larger crowds are expected to take to the retail aisles this holiday weekend, the general mood among recession-weary consumers still appears to one of frugality, experts say.

Asurvey conducted for the National Retail Federation here predicts that 134 million people will go shopping this weekend, marking an increase over last year's tally of 128 million.

Consumers also are looking to get an early start this Black Friday. According to the NRF study, about 10 percent of shoppers say they plan to get to the stores between midnight and 3 a.m., while more than 28.8 percent intend get rolling between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. And 28.2 percent of those polled said they would go between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.

"With more people hitting the stores earlier, restaurants could benefit not only from increased lunch business, but breakfast business as well," said Ellen Davis, vice president of the NRF. "Restaurateurs have gotten more aggressive with their breakfast offerings, and are catering to people who wake up in the middle of the night to go shopping."

She also observed that foodservice operators have done a good job catering to holiday shoppers with quick meals and value deals.

However, she cautioned, "It's important to keep in mind that holiday shoppers will be very bargain-focused. They may just order coffee or off the dollar menu. And if they save $25 on a Blu-ray player, they may not be inclined to spend that money in a restaurant. They may just go home for lunch."

According to a study by The Conference Board, the average U.S. household is expected to spend $390 on holiday gifts this year, a 7-percent drop from last year's estimate of $418.

"Consumers are approaching the holiday season very cautiously," said Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "Job losses and uncertainty about the future are making for a very frugal shopper."

The Conference Board projects that New Englanders will be the top holiday spenders, with the average household there expected to spend about $534. Lowest holiday spending will be in the Mountain region -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- where shoppers are projected to spend $332.

According to the NRF survey, 66.3 percent and 62.4 percent of consumers said they would do their holiday shopping at discount and department stores, respectively, while 41 percent plan to visit electronic stores and 36.3 percent will go to a clothing or clothing accessories store.

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected] [3].