WASHINGTON — The outlook for the restaurant industry improved in September, as the National Restaurant Association's comprehensive index of restaurant activity registered a solid gain. 
 
The Association's Restaurant Performance Index — a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry — stood at 101.5 in September, up 0.8 percent from its August level and the strongest gain in 11 months.
 
In addition, the RPI remained above 100 for the 41st consecutive month, which represents expansion in the NRA's composite index of eight key industry indicators. 
 
"Growth in the Restaurant Performance Index was fueled by broad-based gains in September, with seven out of eight indicators registering improvements from their August levels," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services for the NRA. "Trends in the expectations indicators were particularly encouraging, which points toward continued industry growth in the months ahead."
 
As gas prices retreated from August's near-record levels, a majority of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales increase in September. Fifty-three percent of restaurant operators reported a same-store sales gain between September 2005 and September 2006, up from 51 percent who reported a sales gain in August.  Twenty-seven percent of operators reported a same-store sales decline in September, down from 31 percent who reported similarly in August.  Overall, September represented the 38th consecutive month of net positive same-store sales.
 
Customer traffic results also improved in September. Forty-three percent of restaurant operators reported an increase in customer traffic between September 2005 and September 2006, up from 38 percent of operators who reported an increase in August. Thirty percent of restaurant operators reported lower traffic levels in September, while 27 percent said traffic levels were about the same as September 2005.

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