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National Restaurant Association - Economist's Notebook: Consumers' pent-up demand for restaurants remains high

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Economist's Notebook: Consumers' pent-up demand for restaurants remains high

In his latest commentary, the National Restaurant Association's Chief Economist Bruce Grindy reports on August restaurant sales and reveals new consumer survey data.  Restaurant sales totaled $45.9 billion in August, a modest gain over July.  Meanwhile, consumers’ pent-up demand for restaurants remains at elevated levels, which suggests they will be primed to increase spending when they are more confident in their personal financial situation.

Restaurant sales posted a modest gain in August, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Eating and drinking place sales totaled $45.9 billion in August on a seasonally-adjusted basis, up 0.3 percent from July’s sales volume of $45.7 billion.  However, despite the gain, sales remained roughly $200 million below the record high of $46.1 billion registered in April. 

Overall, restaurant sales are trending above 2012 levels, with Census data showing a 4.3 percent gain on a year-to-date basis through August.  Moreover, based on new NRA survey data, there appears to be room for even stronger sales growth in the months ahead. 

In a national survey of 1,000 adults conducted September 12-15 for the NRA by ORC International, consumers were asked if they are using restaurants as often as they would like.  The answer was an emphatic no, with 47 percent of adults reporting they are not eating on the premises of restaurants as frequently as they would like. 

This measure of pent-up demand was even more striking among middle-aged consumers, with 55 percent of 35-to-44-year olds and 57 percent of 45-to-54-year olds saying they aren’t going out to eat as often as they would like.  Women (51 percent) were somewhat more likely than men (44 percent) to say they would like to eat out more often. 

Unfulfilled demand was even somewhat elevated among individuals from higher-income households.  Within households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more, 27 percent of adults said they are not eating on premises of restaurants as often as they would like.  These households are prime restaurant customers, accounting for roughly 38 percent of total restaurant spending in 2012.

Consumers had a similar attitude about their off-premises occasions, with 49 percent of adults saying they are not purchasing take-out or delivery as frequently as they would like.  Like the on-premises results, women (52 percent) were slightly more likely than men (46 percent) to say they would like to be using take-out and delivery options more often. 

Putting these results in a recent historical context, consumer sentiment was virtually unchanged from a few months ago.  In an identical survey fielded in April 2013, 49 percent of adults said they are not eating on the premises of restaurants as frequently as they would like, while 51 percent said they would like to utilize take-out and delivery more often. 

These new survey results suggest that consumers’ appetite for restaurants remains largely unfulfilled, and they will be looking to boost patronage when they are more confident in their personal financial situation. 

Read more from the Economist’s Notebook and get additional analysis of restaurant industry trends on Restaurant TrendMapper (subscription required).

Total Eating and Drinking Place Sales
Seasonally-adjusted monthly sales volume (billions)

   Source: U.S. Census Bureau  
 

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