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    Restaurant Sales Forecasted to Jump 4.4% in '08

    WASHINGTON -- Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $558 billion in 2008, a 4.4 percent increase over 2007, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast, which was released yesterday.

    WASHINGTON -- Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach $558 billion in 2008, a 4.4 percent increase over 2007, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2008 Restaurant Industry Forecast, which was released yesterday.

    The industry is expected to remain an "economic powerhouse," the trade group said, representing four percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and employing nine percent of the U.S. workforce.

    "The restaurant industry is entering its 17th consecutive year of real sales growth in 2008, and while the overall economy is slowing, the industry will still show respectable growth," said Dawn Sweeney, president and c.e.o. of the association, in a statement.

    Sales at full-service restaurants are projected to reach $187.4 billion in 2008, an increase of 4.3 percent over 2007. Expanded menu choices, meeting the demand of today's increasingly sophisticated and value-conscious consumer; and added off-premise options (takeout, delivery, and curbside) will drive growth.

    Full-service restaurant operators will continue to integrate more technology solutions both in dining rooms and kitchens, and increase their focus on environmentally-friendly operations.

    Quick-service restaurants are projected to post sales of $156.8 billion in 2008, a gain of 4.4 percent over 2007, driven by Americans' continued emphasis on value and convenience.

    Quick-service operators will focus on building their food and drink menus to include a wider variety of options, satisfying consumer interest in health and nutrition, and expanding their use of technology to enhance customer ordering and payment. Like their full-service counterparts, quick-service operators will also ramp up their environmental efforts.

    The eating-and-drinking place segments expected to post the largest sales gains in 2008 are snack-and-non-alcoholic beverage bars at 6.8 percent ($20.9 billion in sales), and social caterers at 6.6 percent ($6.4 billion in sales). This growth is largely driven by consumer demand for convenience, eating on the go or elsewhere off-premise, and the trend toward changing meal-occasions and types.

    Restaurant industry job growth is expected to outpace that of other industries. Its workforce will actually grow faster than the U.S. population, particularly in the key demographics of teens and young adults, according to the report.

    Restaurant occupations that will grow considerably in the next decade include management positions, chefs and head cooks, waitstaff, and combined food preparation and service positions.

    Small is big on restaurant menus, as bite-size desserts and small plates/tapas/mezze top the list of hot trends when it comes to courses, according to an Association survey of more than 1,000 professional chefs. Other hot food and drink trends include alternative-source ingredients (locally grown produce, organics, sustainable seafood, grass-fed and free-range items, and alternative red meats), ethnic cuisines and flavors, and specialty alcohol.

    For more information about the Forecast, visit www.restaurant.org/forecast.

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