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Restaurant operators offer brighter outlook

NRA performance index rises in September as operators report improving sales

Restaurant operators were decidedly more upbeat about the future in September, helping to spark an improvement in the National Restaurant Association’s most recent Restaurant Performance Index.

Fueled by rising same-store sales and customer traffic levels, the RPI climbed to 100.3 in September, an increase of 0.8 percent over its August level.

It also marked the first time in five months the RPI has risen above 100, which indicates expansion in key industry indicators, according to the NRA.

“The RPI’s solid gain in September was the result of broad-based improvements among both the current situation and forward-looking indicators,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the research and knowledge group for the National Restaurant Association.

Riehle analyzes the most recent RPI and previews the holiday dining season:

The Current Situation Index, which measures current trends in same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures, rose to 99.4 in September, an increase of 0.5 percent over August levels and its strongest showing since October 2007.

“Restaurant operators reported positive same-store sales and customer traffic levels for the first time in six months, which propelled the RPI’s Current Situation Index to its highest level in nearly three years,” Riehle said.

However, the Current Situation Index remained below 100 for the 37th consecutive month, reflecting concerns about continuing softness in the labor and capital expenditure indicators.

In the plus column, foodservice operators reported a net increase in same-store sales for the first time in six months and a slight uptick in customer traffic.

The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators’ six-month outlook for four indicators — same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions — rose to 101.1 in September, up 1.0 percent from August and the strongest level in five months, Riehle said.

The NRA said operators are more optimistic about the sales environment, with 43 percent saying they expect sales to be higher in six months compared with the same period in the previous year. By comparison, 14 percent said they expect their sales to be lower, compared with 17 percent who said the same last month.

Meanwhile, 38 percent of foodservice operators said they expect the economic picture to improve in six months, up from 25 percent last month.

The RPI, which is based on responses to the NRA’s Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey, gauges the health and outlook of the foodservice industry on a monthly basis through such indicators as traffic, labor and capital expenditures.

Contact Paul Frumkin at [email protected].

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