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American restaurants: Are they headed for their best year ever?

February 01, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu
  • Chefs in the kitchen at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Restaurants could be headed for their best year.
Chefs in the kitchen at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Restaurants could be headed… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

If the National Restaurant Assn. is right, eateries across the country will end this year with record high sales.

The trade group is expecting $632 billion in revenue for the industry – a 3.5% increase over 2011. The still-shaky economy, it seems, won’t be getting too much in the way.

Restaurants with table service will haul in an estimated $201 billion, while fast-food joints such as McDonald’s are expected to end up with $174 billion in revenue for the year. Food-service options at convenience stores and grocery stores are also expected to grow.

Employment at dining establishments will increase 2.3% -- recovering all the positions lost during the recession. The 12.9 million people working such jobs will make up about 10% of the nation’s entire workforce, according to the restaurant group.

Of course, the boom won’t happen without first encountering hurdles. Last year, wholesale food prices surged 8% -- the most in three decades. Eatery owners are expecting an additional 4% increase this year, which could translate into more expensive menu items for consumers.

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