The year continues to be disappointing for the restaurant industry as February again resulted in negative same-store sales, according to The Restaurant Industry Snapshot released this week by Black Box Intelligence and People Report.

Same-store sales for restaurants fell 0.7 percent during February, which is a small, 0.2-percent improvement from the 0.9-percent decrease reported for January. February is the third consecutive month in which this key metric has been negative — something that hadn’t occurred in more than three years.

These numbers are clear evidence of the predicament the industry faces during this unusually cold winter, according to Victor Fernandez, Executive Director of Insights and Knowledge for TDn2K, parent company of Black Box Intelligence and People Report. “As has been the case with the previous three months, weather has been the key factor driving down sales for the restaurant industry,” he said.

However, Fernandez also noted that the results are a bit deceiving. “The reality is February of last year was a horrible month for the industry as a perfect storm of rising payroll taxes, political uncertainty, and bad weather hit the country and drove same-store sales to almost -5.0 percent for the month, the worst results since the period immediately after the end of the recession in 2009,” he noted. “Under that perspective, the -0.7 percent posted by the industry in February 2014 is very concerning when analyzed on a two-year basis.”

As has been reported in the past, declining same-store guest counts continue to be the main problem for restaurants. February posted a same-store traffic decline of 3.2 percent, the second-worst growth rate in the last 12 months.

Although same-store sales improved slightly over January, traffic actually worsened by 1.0 percent on a same-store basis. “As was the case with sales,” said Fernandez, “to keep these latest results in perspective we need to remember that we are calculating those growth rates compared with one of the worst months we have seen in recent years; February 2013 posted guest-count growth of about -6.0 percent. The reality is February of 2014 was very bad for the industry, but this got obscured by the fact that February 2013 was also terrible.”

The Restaurant Willingness to Spend Index, published by Consumer Edge Research, posted a value of 94 for the second consecutive month in February. The value of this index has been over 90 for seven of the last eight months, which hasn’t been seen in more than three years.

“We believe there continues to be pent-up demand that is not materializing in additional restaurant visits and sales due to the winter storms,” said Fernandez. “However, the effect on consumers’ wallets due to the rising heating costs this season is a concern for the next few months.”

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer confidence index improved slightly during February, supporting the idea that consumer spending may pick up during March and April as weather starts becoming less of a barrier.

According to the latest results published by People Report, the growth of the industry has been fueled primarily through new restaurant openings, which is reflected in the 3.3-percent year-over-year job growth reported for January. That number reflects a 0.1-percent increase from December, but more importantly, it is the third consecutive month with jobs growing at a pace of more than 3.0 percent. Staffing pressures are also being reflected in turnover, which again continued its upward trend for both restaurant managers and restaurant hourly employees on a rolling 12-month basis.

The Restaurant Industry Snapshot is a compilation of real sales and traffic results from over 180 DMAs from 100+ restaurant brands and over 17,000 restaurants that are clients of Black Box Intelligence, a TDn2K company. Currently, data is reported in four distinct segments: casual dining, upscale/fine-dining, fast casual, and family dining. Black Box Intelligence is a sister company to People Report, which tracks the workforce analytics of one million restaurant employees. The Restaurant Industry Snapshot also includes the Restaurant Industry Willingness to Spend Index from Consumer Edge Research, which is a monthly household survey of more than 2,500 consumers. Consumer Edge Insights is a marketing partner of Black Box Intelligence and People Report.