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Report: November restaurant traffic, sales soften

Report: November restaurant traffic, sales soften

Operators hopeful for 2014 upswing, according to latest NRN-MillerPulse survey

Restaurant industry same-store sales rose 1.3 percent in November, a slight decline from the previous month’s gain, as traffic softened across the industry, according to the latest NRN-MillerPulse survey.

Despite an industrywide “limping to the finish line” for the year, however, restaurant operators surveyed for the monthly report had high hopes that 2014 would bring a return to more normal, or pre-recession, sales trends, said Larry Miller, founder and chief executive of the MillerPulse report.

“Operators are optimistic that 2014 will be a better year, a more normal year, with sales up 2.8 percent on average for the industry,” said Miller.

Operators are projecting same-store sales at fast-casual restaurants will rise 3.7 percent in 2014, with fast food increasing 2.9 percent and casual dining rising 2 percent.

“If the operators are right, profits could expand quite nicely as the forecast for labor (+ 2.6 percent) and food inflation (+1.4 percent) are tame, and price is planned at +1.5 percent,” the report said.

Improving macroeconomic trends, such as job growth and rising home prices, support that view, said Miller.

Still, those macro trends have been improving throughout 2013 and casual-dining sales trends have continued to erode and drag down performance for the industry overall, he noted. For the third time in four months, industry traffic declined, falling 0.8 percent in November, and worsened by 130 basis points to down 0.7 percent on a two-year basis.

Operators were expecting sales to be slower in December because of the abbreviated holiday season, and about 10 percent of them said they expect the impact to carry over into January.

Weaker sales in the fast-casual segment dragged down trends for the quick-service category overall in November, including both fast casual and fast food. For the month, QSR sales rose 1.9 percent, a decline from the 2.4-percent increase in October.

Fast-casual sales rose 1 percent in November, compared with an increase of 1.7 percent in October. Traffic at fast-casual restaurants in November slipped 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, fast-food sales saw a 2.7-percent increase in November, a decline of only 30 basis points from the previous month. Traffic was modest, but it was the only segment with positive guest counts in November, with an increase of 0.6 percent.

Casual dining, on the other hand, saw same-store sales turn negative for the fifth time this year, falling 0.1 percent in November.

Miller described casual dining’s two-year performance on both sales and traffic as looking like a “ski slope.” On the upside, the two-year sales trend improved to a decrease of 0.4 percent in November from a decrease of 1.7 percent in October.

However, traffic — which has been negative for casual dining for the past 20 months — slid to a negative 2.2 percent in November from an 0.8-percent decline in October.

Restaurant chains and operators looking to participate in the MillerPulse survey for additional results and insights can register at

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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