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NRA forecasts challenging new year

WASHINGTON New figures from the National Restaurant Association show that 2009 will be another year of contraction in total restaurant industry sales, when adjusted for menu price inflation, albeit at a slower pace than in 2008.

Backing out a projected 3.6-percent rate of menu price inflation for the year ahead, total restaurant industry sales are expected to fall 1 percent from 2008 levels to $566 billion, the NRA said Friday. In the current year, sales are forecast to dip an inflation-adjusted 1.2 percent from 2007 to $552 billion — a worse outcome than what the NRA had originally predicted.

Ayear ago at this time, industry sales were expected to grow by 0.9 percent in 2008, on an adjusted basis. No one, however, foresaw the economic meltdown that began in earnest last summer and was officially declared a recession just last month. The last time that restaurant industry sales fell on an inflation-adjusted basis was 1991, another year highlighted by an economic recession.

On a nominal basis, which includes menu price increases, restaurant industry sales are expected to increase in current dollars by 2.5 percent in 2009, and are expected to increase 3.3 percent in 2008.

“The restaurant industry is both innovative and resilient,” Dawn Sweeney, the NRA's president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Americans will continue to rely on restaurants as a key part of their lifestyle as the industry provides the food, value and service customers seek.”

Sweeney acknowledged the “unprecedented challenges due to the economic recession and elevated food prices” that the industry currently faces. To combat the harsh environment restaurant operators told the NRA they would focus on providing value to customers and work to cut operational costs.

Sales at full-service restaurants are projected to reach $182.9 billion in 2009, an increase of 1 percent from 2008. Quick-service restaurants are projected to post sales of $163.8 billion, a gain of 4 percent over 2008. Eating-and-drinking places will see sales rise 2.2 percent to $395 billion, according to the NRA data.

Adetailed outlook for 2009, including regional data from the NRA and an exclusive Nation’s Restaurant News subscriber survey, will be released on Jan. 5.

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