By the National Restaurant Association’s measurements, the restaurant industry’s performance hit a 22-month high in December but backed off again in January.

The restaurant industry has not shown overall growth in the Washington, D.C.-based association’s Restaurant Performance Index for 27 months, according to a news release.

Restaurant sales soften in January, but outlook gains hope

Courtesy National Restaurant Association

The National Restaurant Association's Restaurant Performance Index rose to a 22-month high in December, but fell again in January due to decreased sales and traffic at restaurants.

In January, 53% of operators reported a same-store sales decline compared to the same month last year.

Almost the same percentage said traffic was down in January, up from 47% who reported traffic declines in December over the last year.

The January index did, however, reflect restaurant operators’ highest level of capital spending in five months, and an overall Expectations Index score just above 100, depicting growth.

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and knowledge group for the association, said the slight decline in the overall index, down 0.3 to 98.3, was to be expected, since the previous month was a two-year high. The Expectations Index score was the encouraging part of the data.

“Basically, what this new index release shows is that restaurant operators are gaining confidence about the future of the restaurant industry,” Riehle said in a video statement.

The overall Restaurant Performance Index is made up of data on the current state of the restaurant industry and expectations for six months into the future. Scores more than 100 signify growth, while scores lower than 100 reflect contraction.

The expectations index has been creeping up for about four months, according to the National Restaurant Association’s data. It was the first time in nine months it reached the 100 mark. About one-third of operators expected to have higher sales in six months, compared with the same period in the previous year, while 22% expect lower sales volume in six months.

Less than one-third, 29%, are expecting industry conditions to improve in the next six months, while 18% still expect them to worsen.

The association releases its Restaurant Performance Index at the end of each month, reflecting data obtained on the previous month from its Restaurant Tracking Survey.