Despite weaker consumer demand in January, restaurateurs appear to be upbeat about their prospects this year, according to a survey released by the Ohio Restaurant Association.
The survey was conducted by the association and the Cleveland Research Co.
"I think restaurant operators are by heart and by nature positive," said John Barker, president and CEO of the restaurant association, headquartered on Bethel Road.
"That doesn't mean they don't focus on facts and trends, but they feel confident in their ability to take care of customers," Barker said. "And most of the good ones do."
This is the first time ORA, which has 2,000 members, some with multiple locations, has released such a survey.
Barker said more surveys, possibly done on a more frequent basis, likely will follow.
The ORA survey included responses from 75 to 80 restaurateurs from throughout the state with an average of 2.5 restaurants and revenue per company of about $5.7 million.
The survey also covered topics such as food delivery utilization, food delivery impact, off-premise occasions and food- and labor-cost outlooks
The survey shows same-store sales for restaurants in Ohio were up by an average of 1.6 percent in January -- an increase lower than any month in 2016.
Traffic in January was up on average by 1.2 percent, according to survey respondents.
Fourth-quarter 2016 same-store sales were up 3.2 percent. The growth was driven by a mix of customer traffic, up 2 percent, and a higher average check amount, the study found.
There's still plenty of optimism from restaurateurs about sales this year. They expect a 4 percent same-store sales increase in 2017, up from a 3 percent increase last year.
"What we're seeing is a couple of the segments are doing better than others; for example, certain parts of the fast-casual segment continue to be the strongest," Barker said.
Those include build-your-own salads, bowls and burritos using fresh ingredients, he said.
Certain quick-serve brands, such as Burger King, are doing well, Barker said.
The segment that's most challenged is midscale family dining, "older concepts in not as strong a brand position as some of the newer concepts," he said.
Kamal Boulous, owner of the Refectory in northwest Columbus, said he's cautiously optimistic about 2017.
Sales figures at the fine-dining restaurant should give him reason to be bullish about the next 10 months.
In 2016, sales were up 5 percent compared to January 2015. January 2017 sales saw a 10 percent leap from the previous year, and fourth-quarter 2016 sales boasted a 3.9 percent jump
Much of that is the result of internal marketing, said Boulous, who didn't participate in the ORA survey.
"We're doing a lot more things than we've ever done before," he said.
That includes wine dinners, wild-game dinners, increasing the number of musical-act visits to 100 a year and bringing in guest chefs.
Most recently, French chef Laurent Blondin, nephew of Refectory chef Richard Blondin, sold out a two-day guest appearance earlier this month.
"So we're just being a lot more proactive," Boulous said. "We're reaching out and supporting a lot of nonprofits in the community. ... I don't think you can open your doors sit back and people will come in."