While the National Restaurant Association shared some good news, Christmas sales figures were less encouraging. In restaurant news, the bars with food vs. restaurants with drinks debate continues and much more. 

The National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index took a nice step forward in October. Despite the partial government shutdown, mediocre job reports, and nervous consumers, the NRA saw its RPI grow by 0.7 percent to 100.9, a 4-month high. This also marks the eighth consecutive month the Index was in an expansion mode.

Both of the RPI's secondary indices showed gains in October, with the Current Situation Index up 1 percent to 100.9 and the Expectations Index up 0.4 percent to 100.9. Driving the Current Situation Index growth was 54 percent of operators reporting better same-store sales compared to October 2012. October 2013 customer traffic also improved over the same month last year with 43 percent of operators stating traffic increased compared to 33 percent in October 2012.

Equally important, operators continue to invest in their businesses. For the sixth consecutive month, more than half of the operators surveyed said they made a capital expenditure during the previous three months in such areas as equipment, expansion and/or remodeling. Further, 53 percent of operators plan to make a capital expenditure in the next 3 months.

Economic News This Week

  • Retail sales results from the start to the holiday shopping season offered sort of a good news/bad news scenario. The Wall Street Journal and other sources indicated that moving the promotions to Thanksgiving (or earlier) generated considerable customer traffic but it appears that a lot of the sales were just moved away from Black Friday. And while some estimates show a slight increase in the number of people shopping during the 4-day period, the National Retail Federation (NRF) said that spending declined by 2.7 percent over the same period last year. Never the less, the NRF is sticking to their forecast that sales for the season will be up 3.9 percent over 2012.
  • Initial jobless claims tumbled again in the week ending November 23 to 316,000, a drop of 10,000 from the previous week. The 4-week moving average declined to 331,750, a drop of 7,500. Barring seasonal variations or some other glitch, layoffs are approaching a level last seen before the recession.
  • Building permits issued increased by 6.2 percent in October to an adjusted annualized rate of 1,034,000. A spate of multifamily permits sparked this growth. Single family home permits grew by 0.8 percent. (Note - The Commerce Department's report on housing starts has been delayed until December due to the government shutdown.)
  • Home prices increased in October but by just 0.7 percent, according to the S&P/Case Schiller study of 20 major markets. This was the smallest increase since February. Prices are up 13.3 percent compared to October 2012 but remain 20 percent below the peak year of 2006.
  • Construction spending rose 0.8 percent in October after falling in September. The U.S. Commerce Department report said that the increase was pushed by a 3.6 percent surge in government buildings while private homes and commercial building spending fell by 0.5 percent.
  • Durable goods orders declined 2 percent in October with major dips in both civilian and military aircraft orders. New orders for the aviation segment are erratic but the more disturbing data point was a 0.2 percent drop in orders for "core" capital goods, i.e., those products used to manufacture other goods. Some observers see this as an indication that the recovery will remain slow.
  • The Institute for Supply Management's Manufacturing Index surprised forecasters by rising in November by 0.9 percent to 57.3, up from 56.4 in October. This is the highest the Index has been this year with 15 of the 18 manufacturing segments studied showing activity growing last month. New orders, production and employment were all up.
  • The Chicago Production Manufacturing Index fell to 63 in November from 65.9 in October. This still shows a high level of manufacturing activity in the Chicago region since any number more than 50 indicates expansion. Although they all declined, new orders, production, and order backlog remain at respectable levels.
  • Consumer confidence remains weak. The Reuters/University of Michigan Consumer Index did move up in November slightly to 75.1 from 73.2 in October. The economic index was down but the expectations index component fell. Meanwhile the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index fell to 70.4 in November, down from 71.2 in October with both the present situation and the expectations indices falling. And, Gallup's U.S. Economic Confidence Index, which plunged this fall, dropped to minus 28 last week from minus 26 the previous week.

Foodservice News This Week

  • Bars That Serve Food vs. Restaurants That That Serve Drinks: the debate continues. This was a key discussion point in an interview with John Taffer, consultant and host of SPIKE TV's "Bar Rescue" that appeared in Burger Business. Space doesn't allow us to present all the points Mr. Taffer made but he points out that food at a "bar" has less credibility and the burger bars can be far more profitable by making spirits-based drinks more important. His definition of a "perfect restaurant" is one that has a 70/30 food/beverage split.
  • Customers do use calorie information restaurants provide. The Centers for Disease Control published a study saying that 95.4 percent of consumers who read calorie data use it when ordering at least sometimes. But just 36.4 percent of those in surveyed said they read the information. And, based on previous research, 36 percent readership may be high.
  • Starbucks has not franchised in the United States but, in order to reach small markets in the UK, the coffee chain now has 9 franchisees operating 45 stores in that country. Starbucks has been reported to be developing a franchisee program for France, too.
  • Foodservice workers to strike on Thursday. The New York Times reported that foodservice workers and their backers have announced they will sponsor one-day strikes in 100 cities and will have "protest activities" in another 100 cities. The primary goals are to have a $15 an hour minimum wage and to attain union representation. The impact of previous walkouts and demonstrations has not been clear with backers of the employers claiming success and chains reporting minimal disruptions.
  • The Fresh & Easy Chain has been acquired by Yucaipa Companies, a U.S.-based private investment firm. While promising "exciting changes" the press release did not offer specifics.
  • Granite City Food & Brewery, with 27 units in 12 states, has announced the company's intention to delist its stock. The chain's board stated that the reporting burden is disproportionate to any benefit the company derives having listed stock.
  • KFC Canada announced a new concept. The chain will open a new fast-casual restaurant called KFC Select in Toronto next month featuring rice bowls and grilled chicken burritos with the aim of attracting a younger crowd.
  • Growth chains: City Barbeque will open restaurants in North Carolina, Indiana and Kentucky next year. Smashburger has added 4 new partners that will open a combined 54 new restaurants, which means the chain now has 400 locations in the development pipeline. Auntie Anne's now has 65 "non-traditional" units.
  • Comparable store sales reports: Cracker Barrel (up 2.8 percent) and Krispy Kreme (up 3.7 percent).

For details and same-store sales for other chains, please click here for the Green Sheet.

Foodservice equipment and supply manufacturers have reported their financial data for their most recent fiscal quarters. Included are Illinois Tool Works, Libbey, Inc., Manitowoc, Middleby Corporation, Standex and Sysco. Please click here for the report.