National Restaurant Association's 2013Restaurant Industry Forecast Reveals Economic, Workforceand Consumer TrendsWASHINGTON, Dec. 11, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While the operating environment will remain challenging, America's 980,000 restaurants are expected to post record sales and continue to be a leading job creator in 2013, according to the National Restaurant Association's (NRA) 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast released today. Total restaurant industry sales are expected to exceed $660 billion in 2013 – a 3.8 percent increase over 2012, marking the fourth consecutive year of real sales growth for the industry. In addition, 2013 will be the 14 th straight year in which restaurant industry employment will outpace overall employment. Restaurants will employ 13.1 million individuals next year as the nation's second-largest private-sector employer, representing 10 percent of the total U.S. workforce. "Despite a continued challenging operating environment, the restaurant industry remains a strong driver in the nation's economy," said Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. "Ours is a resilient and flexible industry that continually finds new ways to keep growing, relying on the creativity and innovation exhibited by the entrepreneurial spirit. In 2013, restaurant operators will continue to explore ways of navigating the rocky economic landscape to find the road to success." "The fact that the restaurant industry will continue to grow in an operating environment that presents substantial challenges is a testament to the essential role that restaurants play in our daily lives," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, Research & Knowledge for the National Restaurant Association. "Restaurants are offering products and services that consumers actively seek out and enjoy; an activity in which consumers are selecting to engage despite cash-on-hand restraints because it is an important component of their lifestyle." Workforce OutlookTotal U.S. employment grew at a rate of 1.4 percent in 2012, while restaurants added jobs at a strong 3.0 percent rate – more than double the overall rate. In 2013, the NRA expects the restaurant industry to add jobs at a 2.4 percent rate, nearly a full percentage point above the projected 1.5 percent gain in total employment. Looking ahead, the NRA expects restaurants to add 1.3 million new positions in the next decade, pushing industry employment to 14.4 million by 2023.