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Restaurant comps wane in April, but operators remain optimistic

Latest MillerPulse restaurant survey finds performance did not meet operators' expectations for the month

Restaurant industry same-store sales were up in April but dipped slightly compared to the prior month due to a decline in guest traffic and a mid-month drop-off, according to the latest NRN-MillerPulse survey.

MillerPulse, an operator survey exclusive to Nation’s Restaurant News, included respondents from 63 restaurant operators in May regarding April sales, profit trends, performance and outlooks. Respondents included operators from all regions of the country that represent the quick-service, casual-dining, fine-dining and fast-casual segments. Those surveyed in May represented restaurants that booked about 16 percent of industry sales.

Industry same-store sales were up 3.2 percent in April, down a full percentage point from March’s 4.2-percent increase, the survey found. Quick-service restaurants, which include both fast-food and fast-casual brands, saw a solid sales increase of 4.6 percent for the month, but the number was slightly disappointing compared to the 6.0-percent increase the segment saw in March.

However, full-service restaurants, which include both fine-dining and casual-dining brands, had a more difficult month. Same-store sales increased 1.6 percent for the segment in April, compared to the 2.1-percent increase in March, the survey found.

EARLIER: Restaurant comps remain steady in March, operators expect strong April

The less-than-spectacular performance in April following an optimistic outlook going into the month and a strong start during its first half has left both operators and analysts perplexed.

“There is nothing you can point to that says the economy changed in a week, and the weather effect we have seen the last several months is gone,” said Larry Miller, restaurant securities analyst at RBC Capital Markets and creator of the monthly MillerPulse surveys. “I think it more has to do with a calendar shift of the dates of Easter and spring break.”

The survey found that while guest traffic was up 0.9 percent overall in April, that figure was down from the 2.3-percent gain in March and both quick-service and full-service restaurants struggled with slower traffic. Quick-service traffic was up 2.1 percent for the month, compared to a more than 4.0-percent increase in March. Full-service restaurants saw a 0.6-percent decline in traffic, compared to nearly flat numbers the month prior.

However, the disappointing sales and traffic numbers haven’t dampened operators optimism, with a net 34 percent of operators surveyed saying that they expect sales to be better in May versus April, a high for the survey in 2012. That number was calculated by the 43 percent of operators who feel that things will be better in May versus the 9 percent that believe they will get worse.

“That’s what’s most interesting about this month’s results,” Miller said. “It’s the drop we saw and the optimism of operators, which might be difficult to swallow.”

Full-service operators continued the trend from last month as being the most optimistic, with a net 39 percent of them expecting better sales in May, compared to a net 30 percent of quick-service operators who felt the same way.

And while Miller might not be as staunchly positive in his outlook as some of the operators surveyed, he isn’t panicking either.

“When you step back and look at the 2-year trend, we are still in an uptrend, but just not as strong,” he said. “Things are still on track, but when we see a drop-off like we did in the second half of April, doubt starts to creep in.”

Register for MillerPulse at

Contact Charlie Duerr at [email protected].

TAGS: Finance
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