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A better year ahead?

A better year ahead?

From the Editor

Just a few days into the new year, I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a good one. Why? Because of the lobsters.

Now, my indicator is not in the least scientific, nor is my outlook necessarily widely shared. But on New Year’s Eve, my husband and I set out to purchase lobsters for a quiet dinner at home. I know that’s not what a restaurateur wants to hear, but I’ve always found the best place for me to be on Dec. 31 is in. We visited four different grocery stores only to find the lobster tanks at each empty.

At first, we were annoyed, but then we decided it was a good omen. Yes, this year’s lobster prices are comparatively low. But the fact that people are spending discretionary income on the decadent crustaceans would indicate that they are feeling flush enough and celebratory enough to splurge.

Still, there seems to be a balance of optimism and pessimism in play as we gaze out at the new year. In this issue’s special report, we asked experts from a variety of specialties to share their projections for 2012. While no one anticipates an easy year, many agreed that all trends are moving in the right direction — even if they are still moving at a frustratingly slow pace.

Interestingly, though, while our experts were more cautious in their outlooks, pointing to such concerning indicators as still-high commodities prices, subdued employment and housing scenarios, and economic threats from Europe, many of the restaurant operators we spoke with were decidedly optimistic. Acknowledging lingering challenges, they nonetheless enthusiastically outlined new business strategies and plans to expand.

On the pessimistic side, obtaining funding for that growth will remain troublesome, according to several lenders. In the Finance section, Sarah Lockyer lays out some hurdles inhibiting access to capital, such as changes to underwriting guidelines and debt-to-earnings ratios. However, she also describes some creative ways operators are skirting the lending issue.

Meanwhile, on the optimistic side, the researchers at The NPD Group see a year of possibility from their vantage point. While they anticipate a fundamentally static business landscape throughout 2012, they also report there are money-making opportunities to be tapped. Read about the five trends expected to resonate with consumers in the Marketing section.

In Operations, Jim Sullivan dispenses, with his inimitable wit and wisdom, an A-to-Z checklist on ways to improve service execution in the coming year. His expectation is that 2012 will be a challenging year of “faster, harder, smarter, more.”

And in Community, Mark Brandau checks in with David Novak, chief executive of Yum! Brands Inc. Along with the plans for the 38,000 restaurants under his purview, Novak discusses his newly published book and the leadership philosophy that has pushed Yum toward the $10 billion sales mark and will guide it in the future.

The growth strategy of another large company, Darden Restaurants Inc., which reported revenue of $7.53 billion in its fiscal 2011, takes center stage in Business Intel. Ron Ruggless spoke with company officials and observers about the recent acquisition of the Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Wildfish Seafood Grille brands, and the growing number of “synergy” sites housing Olive Garden and Red Lobster under the same roof, even as efforts are underway to pull Olive Garden out of its funk.

While there is a lot to digest in this issue, there is much more to introduce in the issues ahead. We have several new features in store as the year unfolds, beginning with the cleaner design you now hold in your hands, courtesy of art director Joe Anderson. In the Feb. 6 issue, I’ll elaborate on that more. On Jan. 23, look for our annual NRN 50 special report, this year on “The Game Changers.”

Mom always said that good things come to those who take action. My husband finally trekked into Boston to buy our dinner from a harbor-side lobster purveyor. As we’ve learned these past few difficult years, perseverance pays off. The meal in was great, and this coming weekend, we plan to go out. Here’s to a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012 in which optimism overcomes pessimism.

Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @RobinLeeAllen.

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