Find out what significant forces are impacting and shaping the restaurant industry, including the general U.S. economy, workforce demographics, emerging technologies, and food and menu trends.

The report analyzes the industry by service segment, customer preferences, and much more to identify the positive impacts and potential challenges coming in both tableservice and limited-service restaurants. It collects and analyzes data from a variety of nationwide surveys of restaurant owners, operators, chefs, and consumers.

Top line findings:

  • Restaurant industry sales are forecast to reach $863 billion in 2019.
  • Approximately half of restaurant operators surveyed say their business is stronger
    than it was two years ago.
  • The industry employs 15.3 million workers and continues to be the country’s second largest private-sector employer. By 2029, the industry will have added 1.6 million new restaurant jobs.

When asked about the economy, restaurant operators are generally optimistic about business conditions. Roughly three in four operators gave ratings of ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ when asked to assess business conditions in the overall U.S. restaurant industry. But they’re also acutely aware of competitive pressures, rising labor costs, a tighter labor market, and a complex regulatory landscape that compounds pressure on business performance and revenue.

Off-premises and delivery options are a ‘must have’

Growing demand among consumers will make off-premises options important drivers across the industry in 2019. Thirty-eight percent of U.S. adults—including 50 percent of millennials—say they’re more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago. On the heels of millennials come the Gen Z’s, digital natives, for whom delivery will be an expectation.

Other key takeaways surrounding off-premise and delivery include:

  • More than six in 10 family-dining, casual-dining and fast-casual operators say their off-premises sales, which include takeout and delivery, are higher than they were two years ago.
  • Nearly four in 10 operators plan to invest more capital in expanding their off-premises business in 2019.

Technology will continue to boost business

Restaurant operators agree the use of technology in a restaurant gives them a competitive edge; it appeals to consumer demand for convenience in the front of the house, and helps streamline operations in the back of the house. Many are planning to ramp up their tech investments in 2019. The report details the types of technologies being adopted.

Top challenge is clear

Recruiting and retaining employees are the top challenges for many operators. Competition for employees is intense; 35 percent of restaurant operators indicate that they currently have job openings that are proving hard to fill. Overall, finding employees for back-of-the-house positions is the toughest. For general back-of-the-house jobs, family and casual dining sectors are having an even harder time than quickservice, fast-casual and fine dining, but the quickservice and fast-casual sectors have the hardest time finding managers.

The prolonged economic expansion has led to a tighter labor market for businesses in many industries, but the restaurant industry faces a few unique challenges. Long-term projections call for a shrinking teen labor force in the years ahead, a concern considering how dependent the restaurant industry is on this age group. Older employees are becoming an increasingly important labor source: The number of adults age 55 or older working in the restaurant industry jumped 70 percent between 2007 and 2018 – an increase of 400,000 people.

Careers in restaurants gaining steam

According to Association analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, restaurants have added jobs with annual incomes between $45,000 and $74,999 at a rate more than three times stronger than the overall economy. Between 2010 and 2017, the number of restaurant jobs in this income range jumped 71 percent. In comparison, the total number of jobs in the economy with incomes in this range rose just 21 percent. More than any other industry in the economy, the existence of multiple restaurants in nearly every community gives employees additional opportunities for upward mobility and career growth. In a related initiative, the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation will debut a new training and certification program in May that will shine the light on the restaurant industry’s excellent long-term career opportunities.

The 2019 State of the Industry report comprises nearly 70 pages of compelling original and aggregated research to provide the definitive snapshot of the restaurant industry, and its challenges and opportunities in the near future.

Members of the National Restaurant Association can download the full report for free; the cost is $349 for nonmembers.

For more information visit https://restaurant.org/soi