Restaurant sales are poised to grow for the seventh consecutive year, according to the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) 2016 Restaurant Industry Forecast released Wednesday. A number of challenges linger, though, led by labor issues.
NRA projects restaurants in 2016 will post sales of $782.7 billion and employ 14.4 million people in more than 1 million locations. The U.S. restaurant industry will remain the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, providing career opportunities for 1 in 10 working Americans.
“Though the overall economy is trending in the right direction, the operating environment isn’t without challenges going into 2016,” explains Hudson Riehle, NRA senior vice president of research. “With overall tightening in some labor markets, we’re seeing recruitment and retention making a comeback as a top challenge for restaurant operators.”
As a tighter national labor market increases competition with other industries for employees, the NRA report explains workforce demographics are shifting to include a greater proportion of older workers while the younger labor pool is shrinking.
In addition to moderate economic growth, increasing labor costs, cyber security and government regulations, other challenges highlighted by the NRA report:
Technology—While some consumers like all those newfangled electronic gadgets to order, customize drinks and whatnot, two in five say that technology makes restaurant visits and ordering more complicated.
Mobile payment—Although most consumers remain on the fence about paying for meals via smartphone, a growing number say they already use or would use that option when available.
Expectations—Having essentially grown up in restaurants, younger generations have a very sophisticated world-view when it comes to food. Restaurant operators say guests have higher expectations of their dining experience and pay more attention to everything from diet-specific food, to sustainability, to food sourcing and production than even just two years ago. Operators will continue working to cater to these precise tastes without alienating more mature guests.
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