WASHINGTON — The U.S. restaurant industry added 2,600 new eating and drinking locations last year, according to a report from the National Restaurant Association, citing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The increase was well off the industry's average annual gain of 11,000 new locations each year between 2002 and 2008, and many states, including Arizona, Minnesota, Kentucky, Michigan and Colorado actually lost restaurant locations. But given the depth of the recession last year, any continued growth for the industry was viewed as a positive sign.
In addition, investors seem to believe that some sectors of the industry are poised for a recovery. Shares of Chipotle, the fast-casual Mexican chain, have risen 141% since the beginning of 2010, while shares of DineEquity, the parent company of Applebee's and IHOP, have risen 89%, according to a report from USAToday. Analysts said that they expect the industry's recovery to be led by consumers with household incomes of $70,000 or more, with those diners looking for better service instead of discounted menus. Growth may lag for chains that cater primarily to lower-income consumers, many of whom are still focused on saving money and paying down debt.
However, a recent American Express study analyzing the shopping habits of the “ultra affluent” — consumers who spend $7,000 or more on their credit cards each month — found that these wealthy consumers are spending 25% more on fast food than they did last year.