Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $566 billion in 2009, with the industry employing 13 million individuals in 945,000 restaurant-and-foodservice outlets nationwide, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2009 Restaurant Industry Forecast released today. The Forecast projects that while overall restaurant industry sales will increase in current dollars by 2.5 percent over 2008 figures, the numbers translate to an inflation-adjusted decline of 1.0 percent. Despite the economic downturn, the industry will remain a cornerstone of the economy, representing 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and employing 9 percent of the U.S. workforce, and restaurants will continue to adapt to the latest menu trends and consumer preferences.

“The restaurant industry is both innovative and resilient,” says Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the Association. “In the year ahead, the industry’s sales are projected to continue to increase, with a total economic impact that exceeds $1.5 trillion, yet at the same time, the industry is experiencing unprecedented challenges due to the economic recession and elevated food prices. Americans will continue to rely on restaurants as a key part of their lifestyle as the industry provides the food, value and service customers seek. Nearly half of consumers’ food budget will be spent in restaurants, rewarding the continued responsiveness and innovation that our industry provides to budget-conscious Americans.”

Industry Segment Growth

Sales at fullservice restaurants are projected to reach $182.9 billion in 2009, an increase of 1.0 percent over 2008. Quickservice restaurants are projected to post sales of $163.8 billion in 2009, a gain of 4.0 percent over 2008. Eating-and-drinking places will see an increase in sales from 2008 of 2.2 percent, totaling $395 billion.

Workforce Trends

Even in today’s economy, restaurants remain a generator of jobs and careers. Employment in the restaurant industry outpaced the overall economy in 2008 for the ninth consecutive year, despite several months of modest industry job losses, and is expected to continue to outpace the economy in 2009.

The Association projects that the industry will employ 13 million people in 2009 as the nation’s second largest private sector employer, representing more than 9 percent of the nation’s total jobs. The long-term outlook is for continued growth—the industry is expected to add an additional 1.8 million positions over the next 10 years, boosting the industry’s workforce by 14 percent to 14.8 million people in 2019. Restaurant industry job growth will actually grow faster than the U.S. population, particularly in the key demographics of teens and young adults. Occupations that will grow considerably in the next decade include management positions, chefs and head cooks, and waitstaff.

State Outlook

Texas will post the fastest sales growth at 4.0 percent in 2009 ($35.0 billion), followed by Nevada at 3.5 percent ($5.2 billion); Colorado at 3.4 percent ($8.4 billion); New Mexico at 3.3 percent ($2.7 billion); and Arizona at 3.2 percent ($8.7 billion). The top states by restaurant sales volume in 2009 will be California at $56.2 billion; Texas at $35.0 billion; New York at $27.8 billion; Florida at $27 billion; and Illinois at $18.8 billion.

Texas, Nevada and Florida are expected to experience the fastest growth in restaurant-industry jobs between 2009 and 2019, expanding their restaurant workforces by roughly 23 percent—far faster than the 14 percent growth rate expected for restaurant jobs nationally in this period.

Consumer and Menu Trends

Association research shows that Americans today are looking for restaurants that deliver value, convenience and healthier options. Surveys of restaurant operators, customers and chefs indicate that restaurateurs will sharpen their appeal in the coming year by reaching out to health-conscious guests as well as to the growing number of diners who are interested in how and where their food was produced. Among top trends restaurateurs see for 2009 are an expanded focus on value, healthy options in kids’ meals, locally sourced items and green initiatives.

According to new Association research, healthy kids’ meals will be among the hottest trends in 2009. Out of nearly 210 culinary items listed on the Association’s “What’s Hot” survey of more than 1,600 American Culinary Federation member chefs, nutritionally balanced children’s dishes came in as the No. 4 trend, and fruit/vegetable side items for kids ranked sixth. In a separate survey, quickservice operators named healthy options in kids meals as the No. 1 food trend in the segment in 2009.

Overall, chefs ranked nutrition/health as the No. 11 trend on restaurant menus for 2009. Underscoring the importance of healthful foods, produce and fruit items, smaller dishes, fish, and gluten-free/allergy-conscious meals were all among the top-20 items on the third-annual chef survey. According to Association consumer research, three in four adults say they are trying to eat healthier now at restaurants than they did two years ago. Nearly three in 10 adults – 27 percent – have gone online to search for nutrition information about restaurant food, up from 24 percent a year ago.

The No. 1 trend for 2009 is local produce, according to the “What’s Hot” chef survey. The local-foods trend has become particularly popular at fine-dining establishments. According to the Association’s research, 89 percent of fine-dining operators serve locally sourced items, and nine in 10 believe demand for locally sourced items will grow in their segment in the future. Close to three in 10 quickservice operators serve locally sourced items now and nearly half believe these items will grow more popular in their segment in the future. Seventy percent of adults say they are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items.

Restaurateurs will also continue to show increasing leadership in becoming “greener” in 2009— by taking action such as reducing energy and water use—in step with patrons’ interest in environmental issues. About four in 10 fullservice-restaurant operators and nearly three in 10 quickservice operators say they plan to devote more of their 2009 budgets to green initiatives. Restaurant patrons like the idea: 44 percent surveyed recently said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on an operation’s practices in the areas of energy and water conservation.

Entering 2009, the Forecast projects that consumers feel tugged in two directions. On one hand, consumers express serious concern about finances, with nearly all surveyed reporting that they are more worried about the economy than they were the year before. On the other hand, consumers remain strongly desirous of continued—and even increased—use of restaurants.

Forty-five percent of adults say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle, one of three say they are not eating out as often as they wish, and 35 percent of adults say that on a weekly basis, they are not purchasing take-out foods to go or having it delivered as often as they would like.

To be successful during the present economic downturn and prepare for an eventual recovery with its pent-up demand for restaurant services, restaurant operators are offering the value patrons desire in conjunction with operational improvements that cut costs without detracting from the dining experience. Indeed, the top trend restaurateurs see for 2009 is an expanded focus on value, with 36 percent of quickservice operators and 16 percent of casual-dining operators seeing the demand for value as the year’s top trend in their segment.

The restaurant industry’s resilience amidst the weak economy and relative strength compared to other industries is driven by restaurants responsiveness to consumers’ desire for convenience, value and socialization. The increasingly essential nature of restaurant services buoys the industry even during times of economic uncertainty: Nearly seven in 10 adults agreed in a recent National Restaurant Association survey that purchasing meals from restaurants, take-out and delivery places makes it easier for families with children to manage their day-to-day lives, and nearly eight in 10 agreed that going out to a restaurant with family and/or friends gives them an opportunity to socialize and is a better way for them to make use of their leisure time rather than cooking at home.

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