Latest restaurant business snapshot: Flat sales, eroding traffic

Don’t expect the industrywide decline in restaurant traffic to be reversed anytime soon, according to new data and analysis from Black Box Intelligence.

“It’s not the number of people, it’s the frequency,” explained Victor Fernandez, executive director of insights for Black Box’s parent, TDN2K. The issue isn’t a lack of desire among consumers to visit restaurants as often as they once did. Indeed, Fernandez noted Thursday during TDN2K’s Summer Brand Conference,  “the willingness to spend has pretty much stabilized [at] pretty much the highest numbers we’ve seen in three years.”

Rather, “the real reason they’re not spending is an income issue,” he said. “We don’t see anything pointing to an increase in income in the near future.”

Black Box pegged the decline in traffic for May at 1.5 percent. Comparable restaurant sales inched upward during the month by 0.3 percent, Fernandez revealed at the conference. It’s meager, he noted, but “up is up.”

“Traffic, that's the main problem, less and less guests,” he summarized. “It’s probably not going away soon.”

He noted, however, that performance during the month varied widely by geographic location, day part and segment. Breakfast sales showed strength and “fast casual is really stealing share, from casual, primarily, but also a little bit from quick service.”



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