Restaurants still struggling

State: Year-over-year sales decline at 56% of stores

ROLF BOONE; Staff writerDecember 8, 2011 

Washington restaurant operators reported lower same-store sales and fewer customers in the year-over-year October period, although improving national restaurant data could be a sign of better things to come, according to a new survey.

The survey, which was released this week by the Olympia-based Washington Restaurant Association, shows that 56 percent of Washington restaurant operators reported lower same-store sales – those restaurants open at least a year – and 57 percent reported fewer customers between October 2010 and 2011. Thirty-one percent said same-store sales were higher and 24 percent reported more customers in the same period.

Adam Adrian, managing partner of a group of restaurants which includes Olympia’s Ramblin’ Jacks and Mercato, said business has been flat and it continues to be flat.

“Very, very slowly it will get a little better,” he said about the restaurant industry. “It’s not great, but it’s also not catastrophic.”

One area of Adrian’s business that has improved is in banquets and catering, which has experienced a seasonal uptick in activity as private groups and businesses still celebrate the holidays. Still, regular dining business remains flat, he said.

Nationwide, 45 percent of restaurant operators said same-store sales were higher – 35 percent reported lower same-store sales – and 39 percent reported fewer customers. Thirty-seven percent said customer traffic had increased in the October period.

It also was the fifth straight month in which restaurant sales and customer traffic have increased throughout the country, the survey data shows.

“This positive news from the collective U.S. restaurant industry could be a harbinger of recovery for Washington operators in 2012,” the Washington Restaurant Association said in a news release.

Other survey results for Washington restaurant operators in the October 2011/2010 period:

 • Forty-six percent reduced staff, while 7 percent added employees.

 • Forty-eight percent reduced employee hours, while 19 percent increased employee hours.

 • Seventy-one percent expect food costs to be higher and 61 percent expect to raise menu prices.

 • Seventy-two percent made no capital expenditure in the past three months; 57 percent don’t expect to make a capital expenditure in the next six months.

 • Fifty-three percent expect general business conditions to be about the same in the next six months.

 • Ninety percent said they don’t plan to open a new restaurant in the next six months.

One bright spot for the Washington restaurant industry is that 3,000 seasonal jobs were created by the industry in October.

“You have to be an optimist to make it in the restaurant business, and operators have reflected that by hiring up for their traditionally busy months,” Washington Restaurant Association President and Chief Executive Anthony Anton said. “In the spirit of the holiday season, we can just as easily reflect on the encouraging signs we’re seeing, moving into 2012.”

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403

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