The improving economy and consumers’ desire to dine out more often should generate increased restaurant sales in every state this year, with the strongest gains expected in Arizona, Florida, North Dakota, Texas and Colorado. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast, Arizona and Florida are projected to post 4.9 percent sales increases. North Dakota and Texas follow at 4.8 percent, Colorado at 4.3 percent, and California and Utah at 3.9 percent.
In Florida, where restaurant sales volume is expected to top $36.4 billion this year, Carol Dover, president and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, attributes the industry’s positive performance to several factors. They include reduced unemployment, good weather and business-friendly legislation introduced by state lawmakers and endorsed by Gov. Rick Scott (R).
“We are fortunate here in Florida,” Dover says. “Since our governor took office in 2011, unemployment has dropped to 5.6 percent, down from 11.1 percent. Nearly 730,000 new jobs have been created, with the bulk of them coming from tourism. We’re in a really good business mode, and our senate, house and governor are enacting business-friendly legislation, including [several] tax cuts.”
John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar restaurants in Bradenton, Fla., says the mood among business owners and customers is more upbeat than it has been.
“We were one of the states hit hardest during the recession, and we’re also one of the ones recovering quickest. Things seem to be turning around and people are feeling good again. Customers are ordering more and eating better. They’re ordering dessert and having a beverage or two. The mood in the business community is great.”
According to Horne, sales at all three of his locations in 2014 were up 8.6 percent over 2013, and covers increased nearly 2.5 percent. He says this year should be even better.
“The economy is picking up, the weather is in our favor and the [Florida] government is pro-business. These days, it’s all about ROI and getting people to work in Florida.”
In Arizona, restaurant sales volume is expected to hit $11.5 billion in 2015. Restaurateurs cite factors such as hosting the Super Bowl and several pro-golf tournaments, along with increased tourism, as reasons for the uptick in sales.
“Our local economy is excellent, and tourism is stronger than ever,” says Bobby Fitzgerald, owner of White Chocolate Grill, which operates in Scottsdale, Phoenix, Schaumburg, Ill., and Colorado. “Arizona is building a real culinary atmosphere with high-quality operators who are offering cutting-edge food.“
Fitzgerald, chairman of the Arizona Restaurant Association, says 2015 so far has produced positive sales that should continue to grow. “In the beginning weeks of the year, first with the Fiesta Bowl, then the Pro Bowl and now the Super Bowl, sales have been quite good.”
Louis Basile, president and CEO of the Phoenix-based Wildflower Bread Co. fast-casual chain, says the pro-sports events plus the drop in gas prices are the big drivers for sales.
“We started to see a real consumer shift last December, and the first five weeks of this year have been pretty dynamic,” he says. “Beyond that, Arizona has such a driving population, so when gas prices are down to where they are now, the dollars saved go directly to food and entertainment. For someone who spent $60 at the gas pump, but now spends $30, that’s license to spend another $30 on dinner or a movie or both. Consumers seem to be feeling better about the economy and the relief they’re getting from the lower gas prices. I’d say I’m more optimistic we’re going to have a much better year than last year.”
Purchase the 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast here.