Foodservice Equipment Reports

A Traffic Gain That Bodes Well For Dealers

As most of you know, I get excited by “fun with numbers.” I’ve been reporting and analyzing economic and foodservice trend data for so long (since 1978!), that I am seldom surprised by anything. Last week, I saw some really surprising and fun numbers, so fun I want to share them with you. You’ll like them, too.

One of the more depressing aspects of the foodservice market’s recovery from the Great Recession is that restaurant traffic has essentially been flat or negative since 2008. Worse, for full-service operators, customer visits have been consistently negative since before the recession.

The NPD Group’s Rosemont, Ill., foodservice research practice tracks through consumer panels the more than 61 billion visits Americans make annually to restaurants in the United States. Their CREST research details consistent quarter-versus- quarter, year-prior traffic declines for family/midscale full-service operators since 2006 and for casual-dining concepts since 2008. Really. Neither midscale nor casual dining has had a single quarter of traffic growth since before the recession. What little traffic improvements the overall market has seen have been at limited-service operations, driven primarily by the rapid growth of fast-casual concepts.

So you can imagine my shock and awe when my friends at NPD shared their late 2014 traffic numbers with me last week and, Ta-da: Full-service traffic was not negative; it was positive for the three-month period September through November! Casual dining visits, which account for 10% of all traffic, rose 2%. Midscale traffic was finally NOT negative; it was flat. It was definitely a “Wow!” moment, since it was so totally unexpected.

Now you are probably saying to yourself, “That guy Ashton should get a life beyond foodservice trend data,” but there’s a reason why I share this development with you. Many, if not most, dealers earn their bread and butter off full-service operators, not quick-service or noncommercial operators. The full-service ranks are still dominated by small chains and independents that rely on dealers for equipment, supplies, kitchen renovations, and the occasion new unit. This core customer base has been struggling for years. That things are finally looking up for them can only be a good thing for dealers.

Of course, as we “fun with numbers” guys say, one quarter of data does not a trend make. But the prospects for full-service in 2015 are in fact quite bright. The jobs market is finally getting some traction; the plunge in gasoline prices has definitely benefitted foodservice (and those low prices are forecast to continue throughout 2015); and consumers are more upbeat than they have been since the onset of the recession. They are going out to eat more and treating themselves by upgrading to full-service, apparently.

Technomic also released a revision of its 2015 operator sales forecast a couple weeks ago. Guess what? They predict full-service restaurants will grow sales a full point faster than limited- service concepts. Go get ’em.

Cheers,



Robin Ashton

Publisher  

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