According to GuestMetrics, based on its proprietary database of POS transactions of more than $8 billion dollars in transactions and more than 250 million checks from restaurants and bars across the United States in the past two years, sales at table service restaurants and bars started 2012 off favorably, but then weakened throughout the course of the year. 

“Comparing 2012 against 2011, the quarterly growth progression was +2.7 percent for 1Q12, +1.4 percent for 2Q12, +0.5 percent for 3Q12, and then a decline of -0.5 percent by 4Q12,” says Bill Pecoriello, CEO of GuestMetrics LLC. “So for the full year 2012, this means sales were up 1.1 percent compared to 2011. Digging deeper we see that food sales were up 0.7 percent while alcohol beverage sales were up 1.9 percent. Food sales benefited from 1 percent implied pricing but the number of food items ordered was actually down 0.3 percent. Given food represents 53 percent of all items sold in table service restaurants and 64 percent of all dollar sales, the decline in number of food items ordered obviously has a large impact on restaurant operators. ” 

“To get a better understanding of what drove the decline in the number of food items ordered during 2012, we analyzed the specific types of food being sold. The main culprit of the decline was entrees and desserts, which account for 52 percent and 6 percent of all food items sold, respectively. In 2012, entrées declined by -1.5 percent and desserts by -2.3 percent. On the flipside, our data indicates that sales of appetizers & sides, which account for 29 percent of food items sold, increased +2.8 percent in 2012,” says Peter Reidhead, VP of strategy and insights at GuestMetrics. The partner company, Consumer Edge Insight, has found that among consumers spending less at restaurants, skipping food courses was among the top 5 ways to economize. Based on data from GuestMetrics’ POS database, given the large difference in average price for an entrée ($11.56) and that of the average appetizer & side ($5.57), a shift from entrees to appetizers & sides would have a negative impact on price/mix and therefore on the topline of restaurant operators. 

“Given the slow growth environment and shifts in consumer behavior, it’s more critical than ever than restaurant operators align their menu offerings with the latest consumer trends. Looking specifically at what drove the increase in sales in appetizers & sides, we see that the largest growers were chicken wings, oysters, ribs, and empanadas” says Brian Barrett, president of GuestMetrics. “But in terms of the decline in entrées, the largest entrée categories of steak, burgers, and pizza actually held up fine. The decline was driven almost entirely by the long ‘tail’ of over five thousand less prevalent entrees that we track in our database, suggesting there may be an underlying shift taking place in consumer preference to more mainstream entrees. For desserts, by far the largest declines were experienced by brownies and cakes. Despite the fall in overall desserts in 2012, within the segment there still were certain items growing with the fastest being cheesecake and crème brulee.”

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