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Restaurant Industry Will Grow, Outpace National Job Growth In 2013 Despite Sustained Challenges

Because of this strong growth in restaurant employment, labor challenges will start to reemerge next year. Recruitment and retention, which was a top challenge pre-recession, will make its way back onto restaurant operators' radar as the U.S. labor pool is starting to become shallower; restaurant operators in all segments expect recruitment and retention to be more challenging in 2013 than in 2012.

Challenges and OpportunitiesWhile the restaurant industry is expected to grow in 2013, operators will continue to face a range of challenges. The top challenges cited by restaurateurs vary by industry segment, and include food costs, the economy and health care reform.

After increasing steadily in the last three years, wholesale food costs will continue on an upward trajectory through 2013, putting significant pressure on restaurants' bottom lines as about one-third of sales in a restaurant goes to food and beverage purchases. Because of these prolonged cost pressures, restaurant operators will continue to use creativity and innovation to drive out cost inefficiencies and increase productivity to not pass along the increases to consumers at the same rate.

The sluggish economic and employment recovery impacts consumers' cash-on-hand situation, which in turn impacts restaurants as there is a strong correlation between consumers' disposable income and restaurant sales. There is currently substantial pent-up demand for restaurant services, with 2 out of 5 consumers saying they are not using restaurant as often as they would like; with improving economic conditions, that demand is likely to turn into sales.

Preparing for the implementation of health care reform will put additional cost pressure on some restaurant operators in the near future. One-third of a typical restaurant's sales go toward labor costs, so significant increases in those costs will result in additional cost management measures to preserve the already slim pre-tax profit margins of 3-5 percent on which most restaurants operate.

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