NRA Research VP Paints A Brighter Economic Future

The National Restaurant Assn.’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) registered a modest decline in July. The RPI—a monthly composite index that tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry—stood at 101.0 in July, down from a level of 101.3 in June and the second consecutive monthly decline.

“Although restaurant operators reported positive same-store sales and customer traffic results in July, the RPI edged down as a result of a mixed outlook for the months ahead,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge for the association. “Restaurant operators were less bullish about the direction of the overall economy, and rising wholesale food costs are once again starting to pose a significant challenge.”

Mr. Riehle was one of two featured speakers at an economic outlook presentation hosted by the Rhode Island Hospitality Assn. Both Mr. Riehle and Rachel Roginsky of Pinnacle Advisory Group expressed optimism about the growing economy and its positive impact on food service, lodging and hospitality.

By the end of 2014, Mr. Riehle projected that annual sales for the industry would grow to $683 billion, 3.6 percent more than last year. He also said 13.5 million would be employed by the end of the year at 990,000 locations. Keeping the optimism down are rising food costs, which Mr. Riehle said is the top challenge facing restaurant operators, supplanting government and the economy as the top two challenges from the past two years.

Ms. Roginsky, a noted lodging hospitality and lodging expert with offices in Boston, Tampa, Fla., Falmouth, Maine, Arlington, Va., Newport, Beach, Calif., and New York City, said national occupancy rates are approaching that of pre-recession levels of 63 percent after dipping to 55 percent in 2009.

Also increasing nationally are the average daily rates from $110.35 to $114.08 in a year. In contrast, the daily rate was $107.30 in 2007 before the recession hit and $98.08 in 2010. “Barring an economic downtown or unforeseen factors, the lodging market will continue in the ‘up cycle,’ and many forecasters expect this trend to continue into 2016,” said Ms. Roginsky.

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Olive Garden Introduces First Pasta Pass

Olive Garden has launched its first-ever Never Ending Pasta Pass (unlimited pasta and Coca-Cola soft drinks), from Sept. 22 through Nov. 9. Pasta Passes are available for $100 exclusively via Card-holders can enjoy never-ending pasta, pasta toppings such as chicken and shrimp fritta and Coca-Cola soft drinks as many times as they’d like during the seven-week promotion. Without the Pasta Pass, the Never Ending Pasta Bowl starts at $9.99. “Never Ending Pasta Bowl is our most popular promotion all year—in fact, we served more than 13 million bowls of pasta during last year’s promotion,” said Jay Spenchian, Olive Garden’s executive vice president of marketing.

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Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival Planned For Sept. 19-21

From Sept. 19-21, three Newport, R.I., historic mansions will once again be filled with visitors and vendors celebrating the ninth Annual Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival. Hundreds of wines from around the world will be poured, and a variety of cuisine from regional restaurants and caterers will be served.

Television chef and author Sara Moulton and internationally-renowned lifestyle expert Martha Stewart will headline the Grand Tastings at Marble House, cooking on the Jenn-Air Master Class Culinary Stage on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Regional favorites also participating in the weekend cooking demonstrations include Michael Ferraro, executive chef of Delicatessen and creator of Mac Bar in New York City, and Dan Enos, executive chef and managing partner of Boston’s Oceanaire Seafood Room. Local chefs Karsten Hart, executive chef at Newport’s Castle Hill Inn, Jonathan Cartwright, executive chef of MUSE at Vanderbilt Grace and Champe Speidel of Persimmon will be sharing their talent and tips on stage.

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Latest Word in Food Service...

The Mass. Restaurant Assn. has announced two events for Sept. 16-17. “Server Training—When Great Is Your Goal” is Sept. 16 at Cobblestones in Lowell, Mass., from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., and The MRA End Of Summer Networking Event is Sept. 17 at Anthem Kitchen & Bar in Boston’s Faneuil Hall from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. The MRA also announced that its Hall of Fame Awards Dinner is Oct. 29 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Boston Seaport World Trade Center.

• S. Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-A, died Sept. 7 at 93 years old.

• The New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Assn. raised $10,000 for the National Restaurant Assn. Political Action Committee. The NHLRA is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

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