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What does growth mean for restaurants in these economic times?


No matter how it’s defined, growth in any capacity requires capital and capital remains expensive; the Fed raised interest rates 11 times between March 2022 and July 2023 to combat relentlessly high inflation. A cooldown has yet to happen, which has kept a lot of investors on the sidelines.

Of course, there’s an ironic twist at play here. Those rates remain high because demand remains high. Driving much of this environment is a sturdy set of consumers with more wages in their pockets and a continued pent-up demand from the pandemic. Those consumers, especially younger ones, have also proven that they really, really like to frequent restaurants. And so here we are, with a murky understanding of what exactly growth means at this post-pandemic juncture.    

The consensus is that most of the industry’s growth from this point will come from higher demand concepts focused on convenience. High rates haven’t derailed the quick-service or fast-casual segments, for instance, or many bigger players in general. According to Technomic data, the top 500 chains increased sales in 2023 by $31 billion, or nearly 8%. During the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference, Technomic Managing Principal Joe Pawlak called it a “very, very strong growth year” for those at the top.

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