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As any retailer and foodservice operator knows all too well, consumer dining preferences tend to ebb and flow, depending on circumstances ranging from the health of the global economy to weather patterns in a particular region to traditional seasonality. Deli operators with an eye on the larger market regularly keep an eye on dollars spent at home versus away from home.
To that point, the National Restaurant Association's latest Restaurant Performance Index (RPI), which tracks the outlook for the country’s restaurant industry on a monthly basis, revealed slower customer traffic and same-store sales in restaurants during February. The RPI for that month was below 100, the fourth time over the past five months that has occurred.
Along with the new RPI figures indicating a contraction, only one-fourth of foodservice operators say they expect conditions to improve in the next few months. Twenty percent of restaurateurs polled in the RPI say they expect the climate to worsen.
Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the organization’s Research and Knowledge Group, attributed the RPI slide to reduced customer traffic combined with higher prices for fuel and a national increase in payroll taxes. He also pointed out that 2013 is a leap year, which impacts sales figures for February.
Still, Riehle predicts better news may be in store for restaurants as the overall economy continues to improve and as summer arrives. “Restaurant operators remain generally optimistic about business conditions in the months ahead,” he said, “which suggests they feel the setbacks will be temporary.”