Survey: Operators positive on sales, margin expectations


Restaurant industry same-store sales set records in October, according to the latest NRN-MillerPulse survey, and restaurant operators reported more optimism as margin outlooks for the near term turned positive for the first time in nine months.

MillerPulse, an operator survey exclusive to Nation’s Restaurant News, polls about 100 restaurant operators each month on sales, profit trends, performance and sentiment outlooks. Respondents cover all regions of the country and represent concepts in the casual-dining, fine-dining, quick-service and fast-casual segments. Together, the group of respondents typically represent restaurants that book about 19 percent of industry sales.

The November survey, which looks at October results, reported an average industry same-store sales gain of 3 percent, compared with a 2.9-percent increase in the previous month, and a 3.7-percent increase from October a year ago. The latest result is the best 2-year trend on record, up 6.8 percent, according to the report.

“This is really surprising,” said Larry Miller, restaurant securities analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Atlanta and creator of the monthly MillerPulse surveys and research.

“This is the best month in the three years I’ve been doing this, particularly with quick-service, and nothing in the economy or with jobs has changed that dramatically,” he said. “My sense is that we are going into the holidays, and consumers are tired of being depressed.”

Miller attributed the industry-wide jump in sales mostly to an increase in traffic as opposed to a rise in average check.

The quick-service segment, which includes both fast-food and fast-casual brands, set two records in October. Same-store sales increased 3.9 percent compared with 2.9 percent in September, and a two-year increase of 7.3 percent for October trumped a 5.5-percent two-year increase for September, according to the survey.

And while full-service restaurants, which include both the casual- and fine-dining segments, showed a drop in October same-store sales compared with September, the segment hit a record two-year sales trend with a 6.4-percent increase for October compared with a 5.1-percent increase for September.

Industrywide, year-to-year guest traffic rose 1.4 percent in October, compared with relatively flat results in September. It was fueled by an increase of 2.7 percent at quick-service restaurants.