(Feb. 13, 1:55 p.m.) The restaurant industry is setting record lows in overall performance, sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditure, a recent National Restaurant Association report shows.

The Washington, D.C.-based association released its December performance report, which included data that broke a handful of records and tied another.

The association’s Restaurant Performance Index, which represents overall performance and outlook, hit a record low at 96.4. A score of 100 on any of the NRA’s scales signifies a stand-still; a score above shows growth and a score below shows contraction. The Restaurant Performance Index had been below 100 for 14 consecutive months in December.

Same-store sales are down for almost two-thirds of restaurant operators, breaking another record.

Mid-range restaurants hit hardest

The recession is the obvious culprit, with the state of the economy topping the list of challenges for 45% of operators.

“We’re hearing it all the time,” said Kevin Moll, chief executive officer of Denver-based National Restaurant Consultants Inc. “Mid-range restaurants are getting hit the worst because they’re the ones that get disposable income.”

NRA broke down its Restaurant Performance Index further in its report into Current Situation and Expectations indices. The Current Situation Index looked at December’s same-store sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures, while the Expectations Index reflected predictions for the first half of 2009.

The overall Current Situation Index also broke a record, standing at 95.7 and marking its 16th month below 100. That number reflects a 0.5% decrease from November’s level and is the lowest on record.

“The December decline in the Restaurant Performance Index was the result of a drop in the current situation component,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research and information services, in a news release. “The weak economy and declining sales continue to weigh on the minds of restaurant operators.”

The Expectations Index was up slightly from November, at 97.2, from 97.1. That index has been below 100 for 14 months.

Fewer capital expenditures

Current capital expenditures also hit an all-time low, with only 34% of operators reporting they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months. Only 37% reported plans to make a capital expenditure in the next six months, tying the record low.

“Nobody’s spending capital dollars,” Moll said. “They’re getting used equipment, maybe doing small renovations, but what they’re really spending on is marketing.”

Both the traffic and same-store sales data broke record highs instead of record lows, with 66% of operators reporting same-store sales decline in December and 68% reporting a decline in traffic.

Despite a small positive change in the overall Expectations Index, the percentage of restaurant operators that expect to have higher sales in six months compared with the same time in 2007 declined from 21% in November to 18% in December.

“There are more troubled operators out there today than there have ever been before,” Moll said.