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National Restaurant Association - Sales, traffic results mixed in March

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Sales, traffic results mixed in March

Although same-store sales and customer traffic results were mixed, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) remained in the expansion zone above 100 in March. The RPI stood at 100.7 in March, down 1.4 percent from February’s Leap-Year-bolstered level of 102.1.

"With the exception of February which was bolstered by Leap Year, the RPI told a generally consistent story in recent months," said the National Restaurant Association's Chief Economist Bruce Grindy.  

"Same-store sales and customer traffic readings were a mixed bag, while restaurant operators remained cautiously optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead.  Barring any external shocks, this likely points toward the continuation of a moderate business environment during the remainder of 2016," Grindy said.

The RPI consists of two components – the Current Situation Index (measuring current trends) and the Expectations Index (measuring restaurant operators' six-month outlook) – and tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry.

The Current Situation Index stood at 100.2 in March – down 2.6 percent from February when readings were buoyed by the extra day as a result of Leap Year. Despite the decline, the Current Situation index stood above 100 in March, which signifies expansion in the current situation indicators.

Same-store sales reverted back to levels seen during the previous three months after the Leap Day boost. Forty-six percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between March 2015 and March 2016, while 38 percent reported a sales decline. Similarly, customer traffic flipped negative in March, following February’s positive results. Only 26 percent of restaurant operators reported an increase in customer traffic between March 2015 and March 2016, while 46 percent reported a traffic decline.

The Expectations Index stood at 101.2 in March – down 0.2 percent from a level of 101.4 in February. Despite the modest decline, March represented the 41st consecutive month in which the Expectations Index stood above 100, which indicates restaurant operators remain generally optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead.

Thirty-eight percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), down from 46 percent who reported similarly last month. Only 13 percent of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower. In contrast, restaurant operators remain comparatively pessimistic about the direction of the overall economy. Only 15 percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, while 22 percent expect conditions to worsen.

More details are available at Restaurant.org/RPI and Restaurant TrendMapper (subscription required).

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