Food dishes with protein (any type of meat or seafood) grew at a healthier clip in 2012, than food dishes without protein, according to GuestMetrics, which based its analysis on its database of POS transactions of more than $8 billion dollars in transactions and more than 250 million checks from restaurants and bars across the United States.

"In analyzing the nearly 2/3 of dollar sales in restaurants that comes from food, we see that the split between protein and non-protein dishes is nearly identical, 49 percent vs. 51 percent, respectively, but the protein dishes grew at a healthy 2.1 percent pace in 2012 versus 2011, while non-protein dishes grew a more tepid pace of 0.3 percent," said Bill Pecoriello, CEO of GuestMetrics LLC. "Given protein dishes have an average price point about 35 percent above non-protein dishes, this should generally be a positive for restaurant operators."

The portion of sales was fairly evenly split between seafood (29 percent), chicken (29 percent) and beef (28 percent), followed by pork at 9 percent and a longer tail of less prevalent meats such as turkey, rabbit, duck and venison at a combined 4 percent, said Peter Reidhead, VP of strategy and insights at GuestMetrics.

"However, these different categories of meat dishes experienced very different rates of growth in 2012," he said. "As a result, beef experienced the greatest share gain, coming primarily at the expense of seafood dishes, which is logical given the American consumer remained under pressure in 2012, and the average beef dish costs 10 percent less than the average seafood dish, at $12.89 for a beef dish versus $14.40 for seafood."

Looking specifically within the beef and seafood sub-categories, the strongest performers within beef were ribeye steaks, filet steaks and burgers, said Brian Barrett, president of GuestMetrics.

"While within seafood, the dishes that caused the share loss were shrimp, bass, clams and tuna, though their sluggish performance was partially offset by strength among oysters, salmon, grouper and trout dishes," he added. "In our minds, this underscores the importance of restaurateurs having an up-to-date understanding of the constantly shifting tastes of the consumer in order to make sure their menus best meet those changing demands, and that they optimally deploy their marketing dollars accordingly. In addition we think it's key that operators know how their menu items are priced versus their local market competition given how price sensitive consumers have been in the current economic environment."

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