Jan. 29, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The outlook for the restaurant industry continued to weaken in December, as the National Restaurant Association's comprehensive index of restaurant activity fell to another record low. The association's Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) - a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry - stood at 96.4 in December, down 0.2 percent from November and its 14th consecutive month below 100.
"The December decline in the Restaurant Performance Index was the result of a drop in the current situation component," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services for the association. "Same-store sales results were the softest in the history of the Restaurant Performance Index, with nearly two-thirds of restaurant operators reporting lower sales in December.
"The weak economy and declining sales continue to weigh on the minds of restaurant operators," Riehle added. "Forty-five percent of restaurant operators said the economy is the number-one challenge facing their business, followed by building-and-maintaining sales volume at 27 percent."
The RPI is based on the responses to the NRA'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 consists of two components - the Current Situation Index and the Expectations Index.
The Current Situation Index, which measures current trends in four industry indicators (same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures), stood at 95.7 in December – down 0.5 percent from November and its lowest level on record. In addition, December marked the 16th consecutive month below 100, which signifies contraction in the current situation component.
Restaurant operators continued to report negative trends, including:
- Negative same-store sales for the seventh consecutive month in December, with 66 percent of operators reporting a same-store sales decline in December, compared to 60 percent who reported negative sales in the previous three months and the highest level on record.
- Only 23 percent of operators reported same-store sales gains between December 2007 and December 2008, down from 26 percent who reported a sales gain in November.
- Customer traffic levels also dropped off in December, with 68 percent of operators reporting a traffic decline in December, the highest level on record.
- Only 16 percent of operators reported an increase in customer traffic between December 2007 and December 2008, down from 18 percent who reported similarly in November.
- Capital spending activity in the restaurant industry deteriorated along with sales and traffic in recent months, with 34 percent of operators saying they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, the lowest level on record.
The Expectations Index, which measures restaurant operators' six-month outlook for four industry indicators (same-store sales, employees, capital expenditures and business conditions), stood at 97.2 in December – up slightly from November's level of 97.1. In addition, December represented the 14th consecutive month in which the Expectations Index stood below 100.
Restaurant operators are more pessimistic about sales growth in coming months, including:
- Only 18 percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), down from 21 percent who reported similarly last month.
- Forty-eight 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, matching the proportion who reported similarly last month.
- Restaurant operators remain uncertain about the direction of the economy, with only 17 percent of operators expecting economic conditions to improve in six months, matching the proportion who reported similarly last month.
- Forty-one percent of operators said they expect economic conditions to worsen in six months, down from 49 percent who reported similarly last month.
- Restaurant operators continue to cut back on plans for capital spending, with only 37 percent of restaurant operators planning to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, down from 40 percent who reported similarly last month and matching the lowest level on record.
While the RPI is released on the last business day of each month, 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.