Driven by a more optimistic outlook among restaurant operators, the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Restaurant Performance Index(RPI) rose to its highest level in five months. The RPI—a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry—stood at 100.6 in January, up 1% from December and its highest level since August 2012. In addition, January represented the first time in four months that the RPI rose above 100, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators.
“Although the current situation indicators were mixed in January, restaurant operators were decidedly more optimistic about sales growth and the economy in the months ahead,” said Hudson Riehle, Senior Vice President of the Research and Knowledge Group for the NRA. “Operators’ outlook for same-store sales, capital spending, and the overall economy all improved, which propelled the Expectations Index to its highest level in eight months.”
Although restaurant operators reported net positive same-store sales for the 20th consecutive month, results remained mixed in January. Forty-four percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between January 2012 and January 2013, while 37% of operators reported lower sales. In December, 42% of operators reported higher same-store sales, while 38% reported a sales decline.
While overall sales remained positive in January, restaurant operators reported a net decline in customer traffic for the second consecutive month. Thirty-three percent of restaurant operators reported higher customer traffic levels between January 2012 and January 2013, while 40% of operators said their traffic declined.
Restaurant operators’ outlook for sales growth continues to improve from the uncertain period surrounding the fiscal cliff at the end of 2012. Forty-six percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), up from 37% last month and the highest level in seven months. For the first time in four months, restaurant operators have a net positive outlook for the overall economy. In fact, 30% of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, up from just 17% last month.