As movie attendance goes, so go restaurants

Box office traffic is an underrated influence on the industry, say RB’s The Bottom Line.

The Bottom Line

In July of last year, restaurant sales took a surprising turn south. Same-store sales that month fell 2.8%, largely due to plunging traffic. The comparisons weren’t easy, either, having fallen 1.4% in the same month a year earlier.

By the end of the year, same-store sales were positive, including an increase of 0.3% in December.

Why the sudden improvement? Here’s one potential factor: More people were going out to movies.

Among the factors that impact restaurant sales, the box office might be the most underrated.

The summer box office was poor.

Domestic movie ticket sales fell 14.6% during the summer months. It was the worst performance for movies during the period in more than a decade, according to Variety. Analysts wondered whether consumers were too addicted to their televisions to go out to movies.

By December, consumers were a little more thrilled by the offerings at their local theaters. Box office receipts improved toward the end of the year.

Many factors influence restaurant sales. And different factors influence sales at one restaurant and not another.

Overall, factors such as the decline in retail traffic, consumer shifts to different types of restaurants, and weather all likely play a larger role in the direction of restaurant sales from one month to the next.

But restaurant executives of certain chains will note that box office receipts are a surprisingly large factor, and it makes sense. After all, dinner and a movie remains a frequent night out for many people. If fewer people are going out to movies, then fewer people are taking the opportunity to dine out.

The result demonstrates that, to a certain degree, some sales are simply out of restaurant managers’ hands, and that brands must find ways to make their concepts desirable for a wider variety of occasions.

Those concepts built near large theaters will see their sales ebb and flow depending on the quality of offerings coming out of Hollywood.

It makes takeout more important for concepts such as casual-dining chains, which can perhaps take advantage of consumers who are more eager to spend a night at home watching Netflix on their big screens. It also helps explain the eagerness for companies like Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands to take advantage of the delivery trend.

These efforts will be more important again this year, too. Despite the strong performance of "Black Panther," Hollywood has produced a number of box office disappointments so far this year, and movie receipts are down 2.1%.

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