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    Foodservice Continues Growth

    National Restaurant Association Forecasts Increases Driven by Demand for Convenience, Better Economy.

    WASHINGTON -- The National Restaurant Association forecasts the restaurant and foodservice industry to reach a record $440 billion in sales next year, according to a news release. The organization underscored the importance of restaurants to the nation's economy as it unveiled the 2004 Restaurant Industry Forecast and its national public policy agenda for the coming year during a press conference held recently at the National Press Club.

    The Association defines the restaurant and foodservice industry as that which includes all meals and snacks freshly prepared away from home, including takeout meals and beverages.

    "Restaurants serve as an important and essential component to the American lifestyle, as well as the cornerstone of the national economy. As that role evolves, restaurants will continue to grow," said Steven C. Anderson, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. "With sales expected to reach over $440 billion in the coming year -- equal to 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) -- 2004 will be the 13th consecutive year of real growth for the restaurant industry."

    "The more positive economic environment as well as gains in real disposable personal income for 2004 will continue to be the catalysts driving sales up 4.4 percent over this year and will propel the restaurant industry into yet another year of real growth," said Hudson Riehle, the Association's senior vice president of Research and Information Services. "On a typical day in 2004, the restaurant industry will post average sales of over $1.2 billion."

    Driven by customers' need for convenience, socialization and increased disposable income, continued expansion is expected within the restaurant industry for 2004. The number of restaurant locations in the United States is expected to reach 878,000.

    America's palate is becoming increasingly sophisticated. With heightened interest in health and nutrition, a host of new menu items and offerings are expected in the coming year.

    Intensified efforts by government to regulate restaurants and other small businesses will increase the likelihood of costly and burdensome legislative mandates at the federal, state and local levels on nutrition labeling, restaurant meal taxes and other important issues.

    Sales at limited-service or quickservice restaurants -- defined as those chain and independent establishments without waitstaff service -- are expected to increase by 3.9 percent with sales totaling $123.9 billion in 2004 (up $4.7 billion from 2003). Operators of restaurants in this segment said their top operational challenge would be recruiting and retaining employees, as well as building/maintaining sales volume.

    Sales at full service restaurants are projected to lead the way with sales growth of 4.6 percent. This segment is expected to reach $157.9 billion in 2004, a $6.9 billion increase over 2003.

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