The association said it expects industry sales to reach $580 billion this year, a 2.5% increase in current dollars over 2009 sales. When adjusted for inflation, however, sales are expected to be essentially flat.
Restaurants have been bruised over the past two years, as a drop in demand led to deep discounts to drive consumer traffic. Fast-food purveyors and casual-dining chains have recently looked for ways to wean consumers off discounts, similar to a trend seen in the retail segment.
On Wednesday, the National Restaurant Association said it expects quick-service chains to fare slightly better than full-service chains as diners remain focused on value and specials. Quick-service restaurants are projected to post a 3% gain in sales, while full-service sales are expected to rise 1.2%. The eating-and-drinking segment is expected to grow 4.5%
The group also expects job growth to return to the restaurant industry, after it lost jobs in 2009--only the second time that has happened in nearly half a century.
Growth opportunities can also be seen in delivery and other off-premise options, cooking classes and social networking to drive traffic and orders, the association said.
Other trends the association noted were efforts by restaurants to "go green," or invest in energy-efficient equipment and fixtures. Consumers are also looking for more locally produced and ethnic food options.