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Restaurateurs have seen their share of ups and downs in an economic environment that has been challenging these past few years. While consumers have become cautious spenders, many have begun dining out frequently once again. 

The National Restaurant Association’s 2012 Industry Forecast predicts positive growth in the United States restaurant industry, with sales projected to reach a record high of $631.8 billion — a 3.5 percent increase over 2011.  Additionally, it is projected that 12.9 million people will be employed in the U.S. restaurant industry this year, almost 10 percent of the entire workforce. 

The NRA survey found a number of items that should be encouraging to the nation’s restaurateurs as they seek to grow their businesses: 

  • 41 percent of adults said restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle.
  • 57 percent said they would use delivery to their home or office if offered by a full-service restaurant.
  • 77 percent believe that dining at a restaurant with family and friends is an opportunity to socialize and a better use of their time.
  • 72 percent are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers locally produced food items.
  • 28 percent are likely to choose a restaurant they haven’t visited based on social media feedback. 

The report also indicated dining trends to note, as implementing them into a menu could help improve a customer’s view of restaurants’ sustainability efforts. These trends include using healthier foods — like gluten-free products — and locally sourced meats, seafood and produce, offering nutritious kids’ meals and providing environmentally friendly dining and menu items. 

More information on 2012 trends and forecasts in the restaurant industry can be found at the National Restaurant Association website