And expanding fresh produce options in 2014 should remain a profitable option for many restaurants.
Restaurants will account for about $683 billion in sales this year, up 3.6% from 2013, according to a forecast from the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association.
That expected increase of $24 billion in sales will occur despite “a host of challenges” facing the industry, Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the NRA’s research and knowledge group, said in a conference call Jan. 16 announcing the forecast.
“The good news is it’s the fifth consecutive year of growth, but the consumer mindset is still fragile,” Riehle said.
About nine out of ten U.S. consumers say they enjoy eating out, Riehle said. The problem is, economic uncertainty prevents them from doing so more often.
For instance, he said, about nine out of ten consumers rank the current economic situation in the U.S. as either poor or fair. That jibes with data indicating that of the past five U.S. recessions, the recovery from the latest one has been the weakest.
As a result, 43% of Americans told NRA they’re not eating out as much as they’d like to, Riehle said. That’s up from 31% in 2007, the year before the recession hit.
In that climate, restaurants that can create incentives for consumers to come in will profit in 2014, Riehle said. For instance, 72% of those polled said they’d eat out more if restaurants lowered prices during off-peak hours.
Among the positive news in 2014 will be the continued attractiveness of fresh produce options in restaurants.
Fresh produce figures prominently in three of the top five industry trends for 2014, Riehle said. The No. 2 trend is more healthful kids’ fare, No. 4 is more fruits and vegetables for kids and No.5 is more locally-sourced produce.