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Black Box: Sales improved in November, but there’s a catch

A late Thanksgiving, and not organic sales, gave November the appearance of a strong month, so expect a chilly December.
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Photograph: Shutterstock

Same-store sales rose 1.6% in November, according to the latest Black Box Intelligence index, the third consecutive increase and the strongest performance for the restaurant industry since January.

But those numbers mask a cold reality: The sales growth came due to a late Thanksgiving, a generally poor day for restaurant sales that will be considered part of December in the Black Box calendar.

That means this past November’s calculation didn’t include a Thanksgiving while being compared with one that did—and therefore artificially inflating last month’s results.

Factor that out and the month was actually weaker: Through the third week of the month, same-store sales were down 0.3%. “Two of the first three weeks of the month had negative same-store sales,” said Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge for Black Box’s publisher, restaurant information firm TDn2K.

The difference can also be seen in traffic. Even with the calendar shift, same-store traffic declined 0.9%, according to Black Box. But in the first three weeks of the month, that number was down 3.1%.

Thanksgiving is more difficult on some chains than it is on others. Fine-dining and family-dining chains perform well because they often get sales on the holiday or nearby as consumers celebrate by dining out.

Fast casuals and casual dining, on the other hand, lose customers because they are not destinations on the holiday.

As such, while the calendar shift was a benefit for November’s numbers, it means December’s numbers will be shifted in the other direction.

Other issues could also factor into December’s numbers, such as the holiday shopping season. Black Friday sales were “strong,” according to Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors and a TDn2K economist.

But a lot of those sales came online, rather than at brick-and-mortar locations, meaning fewer dine-in occasions and more takeout and delivery.

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