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National Restaurant Association - Consumer spending remains uneven

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Consumer spending remains uneven

The August sales report is another indication that consumers continue to pick their spots carefully, despite the steady job growth and rising household income, according to the NRA’s chief economist Bruce Grindy.  His Economist’s Notebook commentary and analysis appears regularly on Restaurant.org and Restaurant TrendMapper.

Restaurants were one of the bright spots in an otherwise sluggish retail sales report in August, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Eating and drinking place sales totaled $55.3 billion on a seasonally-adjusted basis in August, up 0.9 percent from July and the largest monthly gain since February.   

In contrast, overall consumer spending disappointed in August, with total retail sales dipping 0.3 percent on a seasonally-adjusted basis.  This came on the heels of a paltry 0.1 percent increase in July. 

August sales were expected to be somewhat dampened by lower spending at auto dealers (-0.9 percent) and gasoline stations (-0.8 percent).  However, weakness was also seen at building supply stores (-1.4 percent), sporting goods and hobby stores (-1.4 percent), furniture stores (-0.7 percent), department stores (-0.6 percent) and non-store retailers (-0.3 percent). 

On the flip side, sales were somewhat higher at clothing stores (+0.7 percent) and grocery stores (+0.4 percent).   

The August sales report is another indication that consumers continue to pick their spots carefully, despite the steady job growth and rising household income.  Overall, the economic fundamentals remain positive for consumers, which means spending will likely pick up if the will is there. 

Looking specifically at restaurants, new research indicates that consumers certainly have the appetite for additional spending.  According to a national survey conducted September 8-11 by ORC International for the National Restaurant Association, 45 percent of adults say they are not eating on the premises of restaurants as frequently as they would like.  In addition, 48 percent of consumers say they are not purchasing take-out or delivery as often as they would like.

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