National Restaurant Association Forecasts Continued Sales Growth Trajectory in USA

The Washington, DC-headquartered National Restaurant Association (NRA) has released its 2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report. It examines significant forces impacting and shaping the restaurant industry including the United States economy, workforce, technology, food and menu trends, as well as developments pertaining to table service and limited-service restaurants.

2019 state of industry report

The report is regarded as an authoritative barometer on the industry, collecting and analyzing data from a variety of nationwide surveys among restaurant owners, operators, chefs and consumers. Key findings surrounding economic conditions include:

  • Restaurant industry sales are forecast to reach $863 billion in 2019;
  • Approximately half of restaurant operators rate their business as stronger than two years ago; and
  • 1.6 million new restaurant jobs are projected to be added by 2029.

When asked about the economy, restaurant operators are generally optimistic about business conditions. Roughly three in four operators gave ratings of “excellent” or “good” when prompted to assess business conditions in the overall restaurant industry in the United States. However, operators are also acutely aware of competitive pressures, rising labor costs, a tighter labor market, and a complex regulatory landscape that compounds pressure on business performance and revenue.

“The restaurant industry is on a continued growth trajectory, driven by an expanding US economy and positive consumer sentiment,” said NRA President and CEO Dawn Sweeney. “2019 marks the Association’s centennial anniversary, and the comprehensive analysis contained in this report provides a firm foundation for restaurant owners and operators to make decisions about the future of their businesses.”

Off-Premises Options Important

Growing demand among consumers will make off-premises options important drivers across the industry in 2019. Thirty-eight percent of American adults – including 50 percent of millennials – indicate they are more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago.

Other key takeaways surrounding off-premises and delivery include:

  • Nearly four in 10 operators plan to invest more capital in expanding their off-premises business in 2019.
  • Six in 10 family dining, casual dining and fast casual operators say their takeout sales are higher than they were two years ago.
  • A solid majority of casual dining (72 percent), family-dining (63 percent) and fast-casual operators (64 percent) say their delivery sales are higher than they were two years ago. Fewer than one in 10 say their delivery sales have declined.

Technology Boosts Business

More than eight in 10 restaurant operators agree that the use of technology in their business provides a competitive advantage, and many are planning to ramp up their investments in technology in 2019. Specific areas where operators will devote more investment and resources include:

  • Front-of-house, customer servicing technologies such as online or app ordering, mobile payment, delivery management and reservations. Seventy percent of quick service (where patrons generally order or select items and pay before eating) operators plan to invest on these technologies.
  • Back-of-house technologies such as point-of-sale, inventory and table management, customer-facing tech devices such as tablets, iPads, tableside ordering and kiosks.

“Consumer demand for greater convenience and speed will continue to accelerate, and restaurants are responding by adopting and incorporating more sophisticated layers of technology into day-to-day operations,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, research and knowledge group at the NRA. “Operators across all restaurant segments will focus on building their business among millennials and younger consumers in the years ahead. To attract these digital natives we can expect the majority of operators to get creative in offering personalized incentives, deals, loyalty programs and rewards through various digital channels.”

Additionally, operators plan to tap into technology to reach diners. A majority of restaurateurs in each of the industry’s six major segments say they plan to devote more resources to both social-media and electronic marketing in 2019. And a majority of operators plan to devote more resources to customer-facing, service-based technology, such as online or app ordering, reservations, mobile payment, or delivery management.

Job Growth Remains Positive

According to the association’s analysis of data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, restaurants have added jobs with annual incomes between $45,000 and $74,999 at a rate more than three times stronger than the overall economy. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of restaurant jobs in this income range jumped 71 percent. In comparison, the total number of jobs in the economy with incomes in this range rose just 21 percent. More than any other industry in the nation, the existence of multiple restaurants in nearly every community gives employees additional opportunities for upward mobility and career growth.