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Modest comeback foreseen for restaurants in 2011

February 1, 2011 | 12:59 pm

After three difficult years, restaurant sales will rebound modestly in 2011, a trade group predicted Tuesday.

The National Restaurant Assn. says Americans will spend about 1.1% more in inflation-adjusted dollars eating out this year than they did in 2010. As they have been throughout the recession and its aftermath, sales will be most robust at fast-food outlets, the industry organization said. But there will also be increased business for caterers and at full-service restaurants.

The industry is also expected to outpace the rest of the economy in terms of job growth, a trend that continues from last year.

Driving the trend is the recent improvement -- however slight -- in the national unemployment picture, said Hudson Riehle, head of research for the association. That's because working people have more money to spend on restaurants -- and less time to cook, he said.

"As a result of the extremely weak employment situation over the past several years, consumers did cut back on both frequency and spending at restaurants," he said.

-- Sharon Bernstein