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NRA Says Restaurant Sales to Exceed Half-Trillion Dollars in 2006

WASHINGTON -- Supermarkets may be losing more dollars to the foodservice industry next year, as restaurant sales are projected to reach a record $511 billion in 2006, according to the National Restaurant Association.

In its 2006 Restaurant Industry Forecast, released yesterday, the trade group said this would represent a 5.1 percent increase over last year. What's more, NRA said it would indicate a total economic impact of more than $1.3 trillion for the year.

"With more than $1.4 billion a day in sales, the restaurant industry's share of the consumer food dollar is nearly 48 percent," said Steven C. Anderson, president and c.e.o. of NRA. "In the year ahead, the restaurant industry is poised to set a record -- over one half-trillion dollars in direct sales. It will also mark the industry's fifteenth year of consecutive real economic growth. As one of the nation's most aggressive job creators, the industry will employ 12.5 million people in 925,000 locations."

The 2006 Restaurant Industry Forecast highlighted the industry's biggest trends, including:

-- Heightened focus on health and nutrition. More than half of all operators, in both the quick-service and table-service segments, reported greater customer demand for items such as entrée salads and bottled water now compared to two years ago. Also, the majority of operators reported that items like wraps, pitas, and tortillas are more popular than two years ago.

-- Restaurants as homes away from home. With growing demand from plugged-in Americans accustomed to operating in a 24/7 society for amenities such as televisions and wireless Internet access, look for restaurants to bring more of these features to the table. Twenty-seven percent of adults surveyed by the National Restaurant Association said they'd likely use wireless Internet access if their favorite table-service restaurant offered it. The percentage rose to 52 percent for adults aged 18 to 24.

Table-top televisions spark interest as well. One in four adults surveyed said they would watch a small television at their table if their favorite full-service restaurant offered it.

-- Increased attention to energy efficiency. Higher energy prices will force belt-tightening among some restaurant operators as well as consumers. A majority of operators anticipate higher energy expenses that will eat more of their bottom line next year. In addition, most operators report they have updated refrigeration, air conditioning, and heating systems in the last two years, which will help contain cost pressures.

-- Demand for convenience. Thirty-four percent of adults say purchasing takeout food is essential to the way they live. Whether they're looking for a quick drive-through or a hot meal delivered to the car to take home, consumers will escalate their desire for convenience. Consumers readily embrace convenient services operators offer: curbside service, drive-through, delivery and takeout. Watch for more full-service restaurants in 2006 to go more aggressively after the takeout and delivery markets.
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