Economy Looks Brighter, but Consumers Still Cautious

Hudson Riehle, National Restaurant Association head of research, says confidence in our economy is growing and consumers are ready to spend more at restaurants.
Hudson Riehle, National Restaurant Association head of research
Economy Looks Brighter, but Consumers Still Cautious

National Restaurant Association

As confidence in our economy improves, consumers are ready to increase their spending at restaurants, Hudson Riehle, National Restaurant Association head of research, said at the recent Restaurant Leadership Conference.

At the same time, however, they are still somewhat cautious with their spending at this time, so operators will still need to nudge them into action, he added.

What the numbers say

During his “State of the Industry” presentation, Riehle, our senior vice president of research, told industry executives that 39 percent of Americans say they’re not dining out now as much as they’d like. That number is down from its record high of 45 percent in 2013, but is still higher than the 27 percent of consumers who shared the same thoughts before the Great Recession began in 2007. He also shared that a majority of consumers now think the U.S. economy is in good or fair shape, matching the recent upswing in consumer confidence.

But, he added, challenges still exist.

“Despite positive signs, the operating environment certainly isn’t without challenges,” he said. “On the consumer side, disposable income growth continues at a modest rate, but overall inflation-adjusted household income remains below what it was before the recession. As consumers’ personal financial situations improve, it’s likely they will release some of that pent-up demand and overall restaurant spending will advance in the year ahead.”

Sales picture shows moderate growth

Our latest industry research projects sales will reach $799 billion this year. That’s a 4.3-percent increase over 2016. At fullservice restaurants, the largest industry segment by volume at $263 billion, sales are expected to grow 3.5 percent. That’s lower than the expected 5.3-percent jump at limited-service restaurants. That segment’s sales are projected to reach $234 billion. In the snack and nonalcoholic beverage bar category – also known as coffee shops, juice bars, ice-cream parlors, etc. – sales should rise 6.0 percent, to $41 billion this year.

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