• NRA predicts restaurant industry growth of 4.5% in 2003

    Tags: NAPICS

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Despite predicting the economy will remain soft in 2003, the National Restaurant Association (NRA) believes the industry overall will grow as much as 4.5 percent next year.

According to the NRA's Restaurant Industry Forecast -- 2003, the industry remains strong and is projected to reach a record $426.1 billion in sales next year. According to an NRA release, fragile consumer confidence and an economy stumbling toward recovery will not keep the restaurant industry from posting its 12th consecutive year of real sales growth.

"An improving economy and continued growth in disposable personal income continue to be catalysts that will drive sales up by a sizeable $18.3 billion and propel the restaurant industry into another year of real growth," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA's Research and Information Services Division. "On a typical day in 2003, the restaurant industry will post average sales of nearly $1.2 billion."

In 2002, sales growth in the restaurant industry exceeded that of the entire retail sector, a trend the NRA expects will continue next year.

With the number of restaurants in the United States totaling 870,000, the number of restaurant jobs will also increase, the release stated. The restaurant industry is expected to employ more than 11.7 million people in 2003, and remain the nation's largest private-sector employer.

Among the major segments, full-service restaurants are projected to lead the way with $153.2 billion in sales, a $7 billion, 4.8 percent increase over 2002.

A majority of full-service restaurant operators surveyed said they anticipate business in 2003 to be better than in 2002. However, they did indicate that the top operational challenge expected next year would remain the uncertain economy.

Sales at limited-service or quick-service restaurants -- defined as those chain and independent establishments without wait staff service -- are expected to increase by 4.1 percent with sales totaling $120.9 billion in '03 (up $4.8 billion from '02). Operators in this segment said their top challenge would continue to be recruiting and retaining employees.

The report also pegged the South and the West regions as tops for overall economic growth, but the Mountain region, it said, will again lead the nation with a projected restaurant sales growth of 6.6 percent. The East North Central region is projected to register sales growth of 4 percent in '03, the slowest of the nine Census regions.

On the state level, Nevada is expected to lead the nation with 7.1 percent sales growth. Arizona follows closely with 7 percent and Colorado and Utah, both at 6.8 percent, are expected to post the next strongest growth numbers.

Hawaii (3 percent) and the District of Columbia (3.2 percent) are projected to show the lowest growth in sales, associated with the continued weakness in tourism.

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