As the supermarket deli/prepared foods department continues to vie for consumers’ food dollars, news from the restaurant sector shows that while the industry’s barometer, the Restaurant Performance Index (RPI), improved in November, it was the second straight month in which the level was below the 100 mark used to signify expansion or contraction.
The findings reflect some contraction in away-from-home dining, according to the National Restaurant Association. Explains Hudson Riehle, senior VP of the NRA’s research and knowledge group: "The November gain in the RPI was driven by improving same-store sales and customer traffic levels, both of which registered their strongest performance in three months. However, restaurant operators remain concerned about the direction of the overall economy, due in large part to the uncertainty around the fiscal cliff."
As 2013 opens with the fiscal cliff at least somewhat averted, lingering economic issues, including the debate over the nation’s debt ceiling, likely will continue to fuel feelings of uncertainty among consumers. To that end, the NRA’s Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators' six-month outlook for four industry indicators increased in November over October, but still shows that restaurant operators are unsure about the upcoming business climate in the first half of 2013.
Meanwhile, restaurant operators polled by NRA also reveal simultaneous if divergent enthusiasm for increased traffic and an ongoing concern about the general economy. More than a third – 36 percent – of operators said they expect economic conditions to worsen in the next six months.
The NRA’s Restaurant Performance Index is conducted monthly among operators around the country. The next report will be released on the last business day of January.