After getting off to a sluggish start to the year amid challenging weather conditions, restaurant sales finished the first quarter on a positive note. The outlook for restaurant sales remains positive for the rest of the year, as restaurant operators’ level of sales optimism rose to its strongest level in more than a decade, according to the NRA’s chief economist Bruce Grindy. His Economist’s Notebook commentary and analysis appears regularly on Restaurant.org and Restaurant TrendMapper.
After getting off to a sluggish start to the year amid challenging weather conditions, restaurant sales finished the first quarter on a positive note. According to preliminary figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, eating and drinking place sales totaled $50.4 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in March, up 0.7 percent from February’s volume of $50.0 billion.
The solid March gain came on the heels of two consecutive months in which sales remained essentially flat, which was due in part to the impact of winter storms in some parts of the country.
Overall, eating and drinking place sales totaled $150.4 billion in the first quarter on a seasonally-adjusted basis, up $2 billion from the fourth quarter’s sales volume of $148.4 billion. In addition, it represented the first time on record that eating and drinking place sales topped the $150 billion level in a quarter.
Looking forward, the outlook for restaurant sales is generally positive for the rest of the year. Gas prices remain relatively low by recent historical standards, and the nation’s job market continues to improve.
Restaurant operators share this optimistic outlook for business conditions, according to the latest readings of the NRA’s Restaurant Performance Index. Fifty-nine percent of restaurant operators said they expect to have higher sales in six months, while only 4 percent expect their sales to decline in six months (both compared to the same period in the previous year). This gap of 55 percentage points represented restaurant operators’ strongest level of sales optimism in more than 10 years.