With the economic downturn easing, the restaurant industry is expected to show gradual improvement in 2010, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2010 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

Industry sales are projected to reach $580 billion this year, a 2.5 percent increase in current dollars over 2009 sales. When adjusted for inflation, 2010 sales will be essentially flat, which is an improvement over the 1.2 percent and 2.9 percent negative growth in real sales that the industry experienced in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Restaurants will continue to be strong contributors to the recovery of the nation’s economy, with industry sales representing 4 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product and employees comprising 9 percent of the U.S. workforce.

“The past two years have been a very challenging time for our industry,” said Dawn Sweeney, President and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. “With a total economic impact of more than $1.5 trillion, the restaurant industry is a strong player in the economic recovery. Restaurants are the cornerstone of communities across this nation and we are a key player in propelling job retention and creation across the United States.”

Continuing the trend from last year, the quick-service restaurant segment is expected to fare slightly better than the full-service segment as diners focus on value and specials. Quick-service restaurants are projected to post sales of $164.8 billion in 2010, a gain of 3.0 percent over 2009.

Sales at fullservice restaurants are projected to reach $184.2 billion in 2010, an increase of 1.2 percent in current dollars over 2009.

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Source: National Restaurant Association