US Restaurant Performance Index Posts Gain in October

Driven by stronger sales and customer traffic and a more optimistic outlook among restaurant operators in the United States, the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) posted a solid gain in October. The RPI – a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the US restaurant industry – stood at 102.8 in October, up 1.8% from its September level. In addition, the RPI stood above 100 for the 20th consecutive month, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators.

NRA-logo"The positive same-store sales and customer traffic results suggest that restaurants are the beneficiaries of falling gas prices, which were down $0.88 since the end of June," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association. "Elevated food costs continue to top the list of challenges reported by restaurant operators, but overall they remain generally optimistic that business conditions will improve in the months ahead."

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The RPI is constructed so that the health of the restaurant industry is measured in relation to a steady-state level of 100. Index values above 100 indicate that key industry indicators are in a period of expansion, while index values below 100 represent a period of contraction for key industry indicators. The Index consists of two components – the Current Situation Index and the Expectations Index.

The Current Situation Index, which measures current trends in four industry indicators (same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures), stood at 103.1 in October – up 2.1% from September. In addition, the Current Situation Index stood above 100 for the eighth consecutive month, which signifies expansion in the current situation indicators.

A solid majority of restaurant operators reported higher same-store sales in October, with results an improvement over September's performance. Seventy-one percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between October 2013 and October 2014, up from 63% who reported higher sales in August. Meanwhile, only 11% of operators reported a same-store sales decline in October, down from 23% in September.

There were also stronger customer traffic results posted in October. Fifty-five percent of restaurant operators reported an increase in customer traffic between October 2013 and October 2014, up from 40% who reported higher traffic in September. In contrast, only 16% of operators said their traffic declined in October, down from 33% who reported similarly in September.

Along with stronger sales and traffic results, restaurant operators reported an increase in capital spending activity. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, up from 49% who reported similarly last month.

The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators' six-month outlook for four industry indicators (same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions), stood at 102.5 in October – up 1.6% from September's level of 100.9. In addition, October represented the 24th consecutive month in which the Expectations Index stood above 100, which indicates operators are optimistic about business conditions in the coming months.

A majority of restaurant operators expect their sales to rise in the months ahead. Fifty-two percent of those surveyed expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), up from 40% who reported similarly last month. Meanwhile, only 6% of operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, down from 8% last month.

Restaurateurs are also somewhat more optimistic about the direction of the economy. Thirty-five percent of the sample said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, up from 20% last month and the highest level in more than two years. Only 8% expect economic conditions to worsen over the next half-year, while the remaining 57% expect economic conditions in six months to be about the same as they are now.

Capital Expenditure Plans
For the 14th consecutive month, a majority of those surveyed said they are planning for capital expenditures in the near term. Fifty-nine percent of restaurant operators plan to spend money on equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, up from 53% who reported similarly last month.

The RPI is based on the responses to the National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey, which is fielded monthly among operators nationwide on a variety of indicators including sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures. The full report and video summary are available online at Restaurant.org/RPI.

The RPI is released on the last business day of each month, and more detailed data and analysis can be found on Restaurant TrendMapper, the association's subscription-based website that provides detailed analysis of industry trends.

Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association is the leading trade association for the US restaurant industry, which comprises 990,000 restaurant and foodservice outlets and a workforce of more than 13.5 million employees.