Why restaurants saw their best sales growth in 4 years last month

Mild winter weather boosted restaurants, data firm says

The restaurant industry saw its best sales growth in four years in January, and mild weather in regions that typically face fierce winters may be responsible.

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Same-store sales rose 2.3 percent in January, according to a report from restaurant industry data firm Black Box Intelligence. That increase in sales came despite a continuing national decline in customers.

The regions that led the growth included the Mid-Atlantic, New England, the Midwest, New York-New Jersey and the Mountain Plains, the firm found. Meanwhile, regions that typically have warmer weather in January saw weaker growth, and Texas saw a 0.5 percent decrease in sales.

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But will the sales growth continue? It will, but not at the same pace, according to Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge at Black Box.

“January’s impressive sales growth is not an accurate representation of the strength of the industry,” Fernandez said in a press release. “Winter has been mild during the first month of the year and headlines from different parts of the country mention historically warm temperatures for January. This seems to be the factor most responsible for the boost in restaurant sales experienced during the month.”

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Still, the firm expects consumer demand won’t slow anytime soon. That leaves some restaurant operators struggling with staffing in a tight labor market. The economy added 225,000 jobs in January, including 36,000 leisure and hospitality jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. And 163,000 more people were employed in service occupations than a year earlier. Black Box found that restaurant employment grew 2.3 percent in December and 2.27 percent year-over-year.

But restaurants have been seeing high turnover rates for years and they increased again in December, according to Black Box. That’s a concern for owners because service was the attribute that most distinguishes top-performing brands from others in terms of sales, the firm found.

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