January was also the first time in 12 months all industry segments achieved positive same-store sales growth. Upscale casual, fine dining, and casual dining were the best-performing sectors on a comparable basis.
Only quick service and fast casual turned in same-store sales expansion lower than 1 percent. “This segment data suggests growth was stronger in experience-based occasions during the month, while convenience-based occasions may have grown at a slower pace,” Black Box said,
Also worth noting, however, is the fact counter-service has treaded along a much steadier path in recent years. The growth curve hasn’t dipped as severe one way or the other, making comparable gains milder, generally speaking.
The labor issue deepens
Continuing another trend, restaurant employment continues to increase. Black Box said it grew 2.3 percent, year-over-year, in December. Restaurants are adding more and more jobs despite dealing with a tight labor market. It’s making it increasingly difficult for chains to fully staff units.
With an unemployment rate under 4 percent for 22 consecutive months, restaurants have struggled to find enough qualified employees to satisfy growth. For restaurants in particular, the challenge is exacerbated, Black Box pointed out, since operators need to fill vacancies created by turnover sustained at historically high levels. Turnover rates for hourly, non-management employees, and restaurant managers increased again during December, according to Black Box Workforce Intelligence.
And it always leads operators to the following question: What impact is this dynamic having on guest sentiment and store-level performance? During 2019, service was the customer experience attribute that most differentiated the top and bottom performers based on sales growth, Black Box said.
The gap in guest net sentiment was greater in service than it was for food, beverage, ambiance or even value.
“For years, guests have expressed through their online comments and reviews that superior service the aspect of the restaurant experience they are most likely to reward with incremental sales,” Black Box said.