Yesterday, the National Restaurant Association released its comprehensive forecast of what’s ahead for the restaurant industry in 2016. The key deliverable of the 68-page report is information on how sales are likely to trend across industry segments, and what factors will shape the performance of each sector. Mixed into that financial information are a number of surprises about how the business is evolving.
Here are eight of the major jawdroppers.
3. Restaurants’ dependence on cars is waning
Thirty-eight percent of consumers say they’re more likely to walk to a restaurant than they were two years ago. Millennials are even more likely to hoof it; 53 percent indicate they’re more prone today to forego a ride to dinner. The findings underscore the demand for convenience even for dine-in customers.
4. Back-of-the-house crunch
Research conducted for the forecast shows how much of a challenge full-service restaurants face in filling back-of-the-house jobs. About 84 percent of casual restaurants are having trouble hiring kitchen workers, and the situation isn’t much better for fine dining (79 percent of operators said recruitment was a problem) and family dining (73 percent).
5. Weather, or not
The NRA asked restaurateurs what types of weather have the most positive and negative impact on the their businesses. The upshot: It all depends. Thirty-nine percent of respondents, for instance, said rain tended to dampen sales. Yet 31 percent said precipitation helped business. Lower-than-normal winter temperatures were cited as a detriment by 42 percent of operators. Twenty-seven percent said abnormally chilly weather was a boon.
6. The other fuel factors
Although the association cites declining gasoline prices as a sales benefit for restaurants, the fuel situation isn’t having as much of a positive impact on the cost side. Diesel fuel prices, which factor into food costs, should remain about where they were in 2015, the NRA says, and electricity prices should rise 1.7 percent, to a mean of 10.8 cents per kilowatt hour. Natural gas prices, however, should ebb by 1.1 percent. The NRA figures that last year’s decline in gasoline prices left customers with $60 more to spend every month, which 65 percent of adults intend to spend on dining out more often.
8. Customer balancing act
Among the year’s challenges for restaurateurs will be balancing consumers’ ever-more-specific menu and sourcing demands against the danger of being marginalized as a niche operation. Places will struggle to find a way of serving the mainstream without disregarding customers demanding, say, more meatless or paleo-diet options.