Fall used to be my favorite season. During my years as a student, it marked a fresh start as a new school year got underway. As a denizen of the Northeast, I looked forward to the landscape igniting in color, football games and enjoying apples in all of their incarnations — as cider, sauce and pies. As a fan of Thanksgiving and Christmas, I knew the festivities were just around the corner.
Somewhere along the line all that changed, though — and I’m fairly certain I’m not the only person who feels that way.
Now, autumn signals the passing of time — more an end than a beginning. The kids enter new grades, physically bigger and more mature than they were just three months earlier. Darkness and cooler temperatures swiftly seep into the long, warm evenings spent outside, herding neighbors back into their homes and sealing the laughter inside. The bathing suits and shorts are packed away, and heavier sweaters symbolize weightier burdens. The kids settle back into their studies, the adults shift back into overdrive, and the final quarter of the year looms, packed with uncertainty.
That’s particularly true in 2012, with a presidential race in which the candidates promise widely divergent visions less than seven weeks away. At the same time, escalating commodities costs have restaurant operators on edge, numerous regulations hang in limbo but over our heads, and consumers and corporate leaders are both saying their expectations for the future are dimmer than before.
The Conference Board reported Aug. 28 that its Consumer Confidence Index was 60.6, down from 65.4 in July. Meanwhile, the board’s Measure of CEO Confidence released in July fell to 47 for the second quarter, down from 63 in the first quarter.
Of the surveyed chief executives, only 17 percent said economic conditions were better than they were six months earlier. That compares with 67 percent who felt that way in the first quarter. And only 20 percent said at the end of the second quarter that they expected conditions to improve in the next six months, whereas 59 percent reported they were hopeful about the future at the end of the first quarter.
In this issue we examine several of the issues giving restaurant industry leaders pause. Among them, whether or not to raise prices as higher commodity costs eat into already slim margins. That story begins on page 3 and continues in the Business Intel section.
In the Special Report we also tackle the upcoming elections, health care reform, the global outlook and other pressing subjects operators have told us are top of mind for them — a foreshadowing of the topics that will take center stage at the upcoming www.mufso.com.Supershow to be held at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas from Sept. 30-Oct. 2. For more information visit
The issue is not all doom and gloom, however. In Marketing we look at the growing number of restaurant brands embracing photo sharing as a promotional tool to drive engagement and sales. That story also starts on page 3.
And in Finance we look at the factors that are fueling this year’s flurry of restaurant IPOs. Four companies already have gone public in 2012, and two more initial public offerings are pending. At this rate, we’ll soon top the total number of IPOs — four — that occurred from 2008 through 2011.
Here is some other promising news: In surveying chief executives, the Conference Board found that while they felt worse about overall economic conditions, 64 percent still said they were optimistic their profits would improve in the next 12 months. Executives in durable and nondurable industries were the most optimistic — 71 percent. But 62 percent of service-industry execs said they also expected profits to grow. The primary drivers of that growth? Ten percent said price hikes, 15 percent said new technologies, 29 percent said cost cutting and 46 percent said market demand.
I’m starting to feel better. Hope you are, too.
PREVIOUSLY: Overcoming obstacles