- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 17, 2006

The nation’s restaurants expect next year to be positive as more Americans turn to a menu instead of the cupboard for dinner.

U.S. restaurant sales have risen 16 years in a row and are expected to climb 5 percent next year to reach $537 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association, a D.C. trade group. In the Washington area, restaurant sales are expected to jump between 5.4 percent and 5.8 percent.

“Restaurants will continue to be important to social interaction, firmly taking root as the ‘dining rooms’ for millions of Americans,” the group said in its forecast.

The association asked consumers whether they dined out or ordered takeout or delivery as often as they would like. One in four survey respondents said no, leaving the nation’s 935,000 restaurants with plenty of room to grow.

The industry doesn’t expect to take a hit from rising gas prices next year, as it did last year and this year. In October, about 80 percent of restaurant owners said that high gas prices were hurting their sales.

The Energy Information Administration expects the average price for a gallon of gas next year to be $2.48, down from $2.57 this year.

“It’s not the substantial dampener of growth we saw this summer,” said Hudson Riehle, the association’s vice president for research and information services.

Menu prices are expected to climb 2.9 percent next year, slightly ahead of the 2.7 percent inflation rate but below the 3.1 percent increases last year and this year.

Indy retailers take stage

“Unique Places,” a book chronicling 100 independent retailers in the Washington area, went on sale last week. The book, published by Crown Guides and sponsored by the Washington, DC Economic Partnership, includes retailers such as Big Bad Woof, a Takoma Park pet store for “socially conscious pets”; Fahrney’s Pens downtown; and Uncle Brutha’s, a hot-sauce shop on Seventh Street Southeast.

“The ultimate goal of the book is to support local independent businesses,” said publisher Dan Easton, who spent three weeks last summer visiting all of the retailers featured in the book.

He said local businesses recycle money back into the community and support local nonprofit organizations, as well as foster creativity and support local artists.

In other news …

• A group of tourism officials from Gambia visited Prince George’s County last week to promote tourism and trade with the West African nation. Groups from Nigeria, India and China also have visited county economic development officials this year.

• The former Tel-Aviv Cafe on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda has new management and a new name: Cafe Peju.

Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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