Cold Diners Stayed Home Last Month



The first restaurant sales numbers from January are out, and the good news is that they're mostly looking better than December's numbers.

The bad news is that they still stink.

According to the monthly restaurant sales index from Black Box Intelligence, same-store sales at restaurants fell 0.9 percent. That's better than the decline of 2 percent that the industry reported in December. And traffic was better, too: it declined 2.2 percent, which was far better than the 4.5 percent decline in December.

Still, both January numbers were pretty bad, and the traffic number was the second worst rate (after December) since July.

The biggest culprit was weather. Indeed, Chicago-based burger giant McDonald's blamed weather for its dismal, 3.3 percent comps decline in January, which it reported this morning.

Weather is indeed a problem for the restaurant business, because if a person opts to stay home rather than eat out, the industry can't regain that lost meal. And we've heard numerous reports from franchisees and other restaurant owners that their sales these past two months have been brutal.

That said, weather is a temporary problem that a few weeks of nice weather could easily fix. And there is a silver lining to the current weather cloud: those areas without weather problems are actually having some pretty good sales.

According to Black Box, restaurant comps in Florida rose 3.3 percent in January, and traffic increased 2.1 percent, making it the top performing region in the country. While only four regions had positive guest counts in the month, according to Black Box, all four were in warmer parts of the country. In other words, when the weather wasn't bad, consumers were willing to go out to eat.