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Driven by restaurant operators’ more optimistic outlook for future business conditions, the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) posted a modest gain in January. The RPI, a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry, stood at 100.7 in January, up 0.2 percent from December’s level of 100.5. In addition, the RPI remained above 100 for the 11th consecutive month, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators.
“Restaurant operators are more optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead, which is also reflected in ramped up plans for capital spending,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association. “However, current situation indicators such as customer traffic were dampened in January, due in large part to adverse weather conditions.”
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 like same-store sales, traffic, labor, and capital expenditures, stood at 99.5 in January, unchanged from December and the second consecutive month below 100. Although restaurant operators reported net positive same-store sales in January, softness in the customer traffic and labor indicators outweighed the performance, which resulted in an overall Current Situation Index reading below 100.
Restaurant operators reported net positive same-store sales for the 11th consecutive month in January, but results remained relatively dampened overall. Forty-five percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between January 2013 and January 2014, while 40 percent of operators reported a sales decline. In December, 44 percent of operators reported higher same-store sales, while 41 percent reported a decline.
Restaurant operators reported a net decline in customer traffic for the second consecutive month. Thirty-three percent of restaurant operators reported customer traffic growth between January 2013 and January 2014, while 50 percent of operators reported a traffic decline. In December, 30 percent of operators reported higher customer traffic levels, while 46 percent reported a decline.
Despite the softer sales and traffic levels, restaurant operators continued to report positive capital spending levels. Fifty-seven percent of operators said they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, the ninth consecutive month in which a majority of operators reported making expenditures.
The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators’ six-month outlook for four industry indicators like same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures, and business conditions, stood at 101.8 in January, up 0.3 percent from December and the highest level in seven months. In addition, January represented the 15th consecutive month in which the Expectations Index stood above 100, which indicates that restaurant operators remain optimistic about business conditions in the coming months.
Restaurant operators are somewhat more optimistic about sales growth in the months ahead. Forty-one percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months, compared to the same period in the previous year, up from 38 percent who reported similarly last month. Meanwhile, 11 percent of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, while 48 percent expect their sales to remain about the same.
In comparison, restaurant operators are somewhat less optimistic about the direction of the economy. Twenty-nine percent of restaurant operators said they expect economic conditions to improve in six months, while 20 percent expect the economy to worsen. The remaining 51 percent expect economic conditions to remain generally unchanged in the next six months.
Along with a positive sales outlook, a majority of restaurant operators are planning for capital expenditures in the months ahead. Sixty-four percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, up from 61 percent 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 restaurant operators nationwide on a variety of indicators including sales, traffic, labor, and capital expenditures. The RPI is released on the last business day of each month, and a more detailed data and analysis can be found on Restaurant TrendMapper, the Association’s subscription-based web site that provides detailed analysis of restaurant industry trends.