In the past six weeks, eight permits have been filed with the state health department for new restaurants looking to locate in Northwest Arkansas.
Cracker Barrel, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Azul Tequila Grill and Dunkin Donuts have plans to open in Bentonville. Chuy’s, Longhorn Steakhouse and Freddy’s Steakburgers filed permits for new venues in Rogers. In Washington County, K.J. Sushi and Korean BBQ filed a permit for a new restaurant in Fayetteville. The locations of all 8 new eateries can be found on this map.
The local restaurant sector expansion is fueled in part by the population growth of roughly 1,000 new residents per month coming to this region. The region’s expanding labor force is also a key metric that grabs the attention of potential restaurant owners.
Bruce Grindy, chief economist with the National Restaurant Association, said the key driver in the second half of the year will be job growth, as steady income gains are needed to help consumers release some of their pent-up demand for restaurants.
“If monthly U.S. employment gains are in the 180,000 - 200,000 range through the remainder of the year as expected, restaurant sales will likely post consistent gains,” he said.
He expects overall, U.S. restaurant sales growth in the 4% annualized range when the books are closed on 2013.
Grindy said total food and beverage sales totaled $45.8 billion in July on a seasonally-adjusted basis, up 0.6% from June. He said restaurant sales in July remained 3.9% above their July 2012 levels, after adjusting for seasonal and holiday factors. Grocery store sales rose 2.7% during the same 12-month period.
That said, restaurant sales across the country have been softer in some sectors such as casual dining in recent months. Casual dining establishments reported a 3.5% drop in sales last month, on the heels of a 2% decline in June, according to the Knapp-Track Index which looks at 56 casual restaurant chains from coast to coast.
Malcolm Knapp, the report author, noted that nervous consumers are carefully allocating their resources and are spending in some segments, such as automobiles, and restaurants are suffering as a result.
Locally, prepared food taxes are up in Fayetteville and Bentonville through June from a year ago. These are the only two local towns that collect this tax.
Fayetteville food venues collected $1.34 million in taxes during the first two quarters of 2013. Collections are up from roughly $1.27 million in the year-ago period.
In Bentonville, prepared food taxes totaled $556,139 during the first half of this year, rising 6.4% from the same period in 2012.