Restaurant industry sales are projected to reach a record $899 billion in 2020, with the moderate 4% growth rate mirroring general economic conditions, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2020 State of the Restaurant Industry Report.

“Consumers tell us they want to use restaurants more than they are now, and the challenge for the industry is meeting consumers where they want to be,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president, research and knowledge group, National Restaurant Association. “We expect this year will see growth in off-premises options, technology that streamlines operations, and more restaurants that are talking about their increased sustainable and eco-friendly practices."

Other key findings regarding economic conditions include: consumers will remain the driving force in the economy, buoyed by a healthy labor market and strong household balance sheets and consumers' pent-up demand remains elevated, with nearly half of all adults saying they want to use restaurants more frequently.

Off-premises dining will be a prominent force of growth in 2020, according to the report. Striking a balance between convenience and the social escape that restaurants provide will be key. When asked about ways in which restaurants could incorporate more technology, consumers primarily mention frictionless, convenience- and service-enhancing items, rather than people-eliminating items.

Other key takeaways on operations include:

  • Restaurant operators are generally positive about business conditions, but they anticipate ongoing challenges that impact both the top and bottom lines.
  • Off-premises will be a major driver of sales growth in 2020 and beyond, and many restaurant operators are devoting more resources to this side of their business.
  • Restaurant operators agree that the use of technology provides a competitive advantage, and as such are investing in customer-facing technologies that will enhance service and convenience for their guests.