Well, I guess it’s official. The print version (8/21/06) Nation’s Restaurant News had a 4 and a half page article on the "horrible, horrible" slump in fast-casual dining sales are compared to last year.
The article does point out, however, that while some national chains and independents are experiencing severe losses compared to previous years’ sales during the same period, others are experiencing record growth.
I think the real story here is: "Consumers’ Dining Habits Have Changed". Some styles of restaurants are benefitting from it and others are struggling. Nowhere have I seen industry-wide numbers reporting a decrease in sales — and even if I had, not everyone reports their numbers. (Not to discount the numbers reported entirely, but one has to keep in mind the limitations of statistics.)
It is no fault of NRN, or the other media that has covered this story, since the object to selling stories and publications is sensationalism (to a point).
It will be interesting to see if this trend continues, or if it is just a consequence of the high fuel prices.
(See also: Slump in Casual Restaurant Sales from 8-25-06)