State’s restaurant sales fourth highest in nation

DENVER — Colorado’s restaurant industry reported more than $5.1 billion in sales for 1997, the fourth highest in the nation according to the Colorado and National Restaurant Associations. Colorado is projected to post the second largest eating-place sales in the Rocky Mountain region for 1998 — $5.4 billion — or about 40 percent of the state’s total retail sales. This would be a 6 percent increase over 1997 sales.

Colorado’s eating and drinking establishments represent almost 8 percent of the state’s economy.

Nationally, industry sales are projected to reach more than $336 billion in 1998, accounting for more than 4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product and marking a 5 percent increase over 1997 industry sales. The restaurant industry provides the largest number of entry-level positions and employs 9 million people nationwide.

The Rocky Mountain region continues to lead the nation in employment growth, and Colorado and other mountain states are the most popular destinations for business locations. The continued growth in personal income in the West will result in higher annual expenditures on food away from home. Western households spent an average of $1,777 on food away from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Consumer Expenditure Survey in 1994.

According to the NRA, the three main reasons for eating out remain social pleasure, eating pleasure and convenience. The fastest advancing industry segment is the complete takeout dinner, or home meal replacement.

Consumers are reverting to comfort foods, and childhood favorites are making a comeback. Additionally, ethnic dishes, spice-infused offerings and dishes made with fresh ingredients are projected to stay on 1998 menus. The use of technology, especially the Internet, has increased, and roughly 98 percent of restaurant operators surveyed in the NRA’s 1997 Tableservice Operator Survey reported utilizing the Internet. And consumers are increasingly surfing the Net seeking dining information.

For restauranteurs in Colorado and elsewhere, the main concerns for 1998 are a diminishing labor pool, government regulation, competition and high labor costs. While consumers demand higher standards of service, restauranteurs are finding the labor pool smaller and less trained than in the past. As such, employee training is an increasing trend in the industry.