2012: Year of the Restaurant

By Ethan Gibble

Tomorrow, on February 2, the nation will be focused on a renowned woodchuck in the small town of Punxsutawney Pennsylvania--just over 4 hours away from The WEBstaurant Store's corporate office. With Groundhog Day just a day away, I'm reminded of a timely quote from a quality film of the same name: "People like blood sausage too. People are morons."

Hello, Philip

No, that's not it. How about, "Well, we mustn't keep our public waiting…"? Yeah, now we're on the right track. People aren't morons. People know what they want, and 2012 forecasts suggest that you as a restaurateur had better know what they want too. If Punxsutawney Phil keeps his public waiting, we just have to deal with six more weeks of winter. If you keep your public waiting, they'll get what they need somewhere else.

At the ICR XChange last month, there was plenty of talk about 2012 being "the year of the restaurant." Nicole Miller Regan of PiperJaffray cited a handful of trends that elicit optimism for 2012 including consumers continuing to spend dollars away from home, a more balanced supply-demand unit equation, and ongoing investment in technology.

Consider that in many establishments a receipt is no longer simply a way of letting customers know how much they owe. The new age of receipts, dubbed "smart receipts ," do provide the expected pricing but may also include nutritional information, targeted coupons, and various other promotional materials to help drum up sales. Remember, too, that one restaurant in particular gained great publicity last year by presenting their menu to customers on iPads, and it's clear that even if this ongoing investment in technology doesn't help pave the way for a strong 2012 in the restaurant industry, technology is changing things. And it is pretty cool.

Flash forward to today, when the National Restaurant Association's 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast was released. The NRA's forecast firmly supports Miller Regan's bold assertion, noting that industry sales are expected to soar to a record high of $632 billion this year. This will provide a 3.5% increase over 2011, which grew 4% over 2010, which in turn grew 3.1% over 2009 and, well, you get the picture. Like many industries, growth of the restaurant industry stalled during the recession a few years prior, but things are clearly looking up.

So whether or not you believe a giant squirrel can accurately predict the weather, Groundhog Day serves as a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Maybe iPads slowly will supplant traditional menus and receipts will be used more and more as a marketing tool, but people will always keep aside the time and money for dining out. And, if industry sales of the past two years and projections for this coming year are any indication, they will be doing so in record numbers.

By the way. The next time somebody asks you "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?", tell them it's 700 lbs. and nobody likes tongue twisters.

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