Bring On the New Year

 U.S. restaurant sales are projected to reach $566 billion in 2009 — a 2.5 percent increase from 2008, according to the National Restaurant Association. Adjusted for inflation, sales are actually forecasted to drop 1 percent, which should come as no surprise given the current economic climate.

For restaurant operators, 2008 couldn’t end soon enough. With 2009 comes the hope that the economy will strengthen and consumer sentiment will improve. But the economy isn’t expected to emerge from the recession until mid- to late 2009.

Upward of three-quarters of the U.S. seafood supply is consumed away from home, so the health of the U.S. restaurant industry is imperative to the well being of the U.S. seafood industry.

Here’s a quick look at how a few of the nation’s top seafood chains fared this year:

  • Shells Seafood Restaurants closed its 10 remaining Florida restaurants and filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in late September, less than a month after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But its demise should come as little surprise. The Tampa, Fla., company had been foundering for several years — the down economy was simply the last straw. However, three former Shells restaurants are now operating under a new name, Stingray’s Grill.
  • Red Lobster bucked the trend by posting a U.S. same-restaurant sales increase of 0.3 percent in the second quarter ending Nov. 23. Its parent, Darden Restaurants, performed relatively well in 2008. Still, the Orlando, Fla., company expects U.S. same-restaurant sales for its three largest chains — Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse — to fall between 1.25 percent and 2.25 percent in fiscal 2009.
  • McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants’ same-restaurant sales slid 5.5 percent in the third quarter ending Sept. 27. Though it stuck with its original store-opening schedule of 11 units in 2008, the Portland, Ore., company cut back its 2009 expansion plans to just five or six units.
  • Landry’s Restaurants recorded sales of $289.7 million in the third quarter ending Sept. 30, down $6.1 million from the same period last year. CEO Tilman Fertitta is trying to take the Houston company public.
  • Mitchell’s Fish Market posted average weekly sales of $77,100 in the third quarter ending Sept. 28, down $6,700 from the same period last year, while Ruth’s Chris Steak House watched its same-restaurant sales fall 6.9 percent in the third quarter and about 15 percent in October alone. Both chains are owned by Ruth’s Hospitality Group of Heathrow, Fla.

Those that survived 2008 certainly aren’t out of the water yet — it’ll be several months before guest traffic returns to pre-2008 levels. But many restaurant operators are hopeful that 2009 will bring more good news than bad.

Best regards,
Steven Hedlund
Associate Editor
SeaFood Business 


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