The National Restaurant Association (NRA), Washington, D.C., released its “2019 State of the Restaurant Industry report,” which examines significant forces impacting and shaping the restaurant industry, including the economy, workforce, technology, food and menu trends, as well as developments pertaining to table service and limited-service restaurants.

Key findings surrounding economic conditions include:

  • Restaurant industry sales are forecast to reach $863 billion in 2019;
  • Approximately half of restaurant operators rate their business as stronger than two years ago; and
  • 1.6 million new restaurant jobs are projected to be added by 2029.

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. However, operators are 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.

“The restaurant industry is on a continued growth trajectory, driven by an expanding U.S. economy and positive consumer sentiment,” says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO. “2019 marks the association’s centennial anniversary, and the comprehensive analysis contained in this report provides a firm foundation for restaurant owners and operators to make decisions about the future of their businesses.”

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. In fact, 38% of U.S. adults — including 50% of Millennials — indicate they are more likely to have restaurant food delivered than they were two years ago. Other key takeaways surrounding off-premises and delivery include:

  • Nearly four in 10 operators plan to invest more capital in expanding their off-premises business in 2019.
  • Six in 10 family dining, casual dining and fast-casual operators say their takeout sales are higher than they were two years ago.
  • A solid majority of casual dining (72%), family dining (63%) and fast-casual operators (64%) say their delivery sales are higher than they were two years ago. Fewer than one in 10 say their delivery sales have declined.

Technology will continue to boost business

More than eight in 10 restaurant operators agree that the use of technology in a restaurant provides a competitive advantage, and many are planning to ramp up their investments in technology in 2019. Specific technologies where operators will devote more investment and resources include:

  • Front-of-house, customer servicing technologies such as online or app ordering, mobile payment, delivery management and reservations. And, 70% of quick-service operators plan to invest on these technologies.
  • Back-of-house technologies such as point-of-sale, inventory and table management, customer-facing tech devices such as tablets, iPads, tableside ordering and kiosks.

“Consumer demand for greater convenience and speed will continue to accelerate, and restaurants are responding by adopting and incorporating more sophisticated layers of technology into day-to-day operations,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, research and knowledge group. “Operators across all restaurant segments will focus on building their business among Millennials and younger consumers in the years ahead. To attract these digital natives, we can expect the majority of operators to get creative in offering personalized incentives, deals, loyalty programs and rewards through various digital channels.”

Additionally, operators plan to tap into technology to reach diners. A majority of operators in each of the industry’s six major segments say they plan to devote more resources to both social media and electronic marketing in 2019. And, a majority of operators plan to devote more resources to customer-facing, service-based technology, such as online or app ordering, reservations, mobile payment or delivery management.

Job growth in restaurants remains positive

According to 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 2010-2017, the number of restaurant jobs in this income range jumped 71%. In comparison, the total number of jobs in the economy with incomes in this range rose just 21%. 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.