The hope of spring returned in March as improvements in the weather and a favorable Easter week shift helped turn restaurant industry same-store sales to positive territory for the first quarter, according to the latest NRN-MillerPulse report.

Restaurant same-store sales rose 1.8 percent in March, improving what had been a dismal quarter by 0.8 percent as a whole and offering hope that 2014 could turn out to be a “respectable year,” said Larry Miller, founder and chief executive of the monthly MillerPulse report.

If the March trend holds, sales could rise about 1.5 percent for 2014, noted Miller.

“The bad news is that the first quarter of 2014 still ranks as the second worst quarter in nearly four years,” he said. The thorn in the industry’s foot, however, remains guest traffic, which fell 1.1 percent in March, the report found.

“In fact, traffic has been positive in only three of the last 12 months, and was only positive in the fast-food segment in March,” Miller wrote. “As such, we doubt the March trend holds, particularly given the Easter shift benefit, meaning sales for the industry are likely to be lower than 1.5 percent for the year.”

A standout in March was the full-service segment, which lapped a challenging comparison to last year and showed an impressive 0.4-percent increase in same-store sales. While modest, the segment’s same-store sales over two years rose 2.3 percent, an increase of 830 basis points.

Traffic at full-service restaurants remained negative, falling 1.9 percent in March, but still improving 370 basis points over two years, according to the report.

Fine dining led the full-service sector, with same-store sales rising 4 percent in March on flat traffic.

The casual-dining segment saw same-store sales decline 0.2 percent, but that was an improvement over February’s decline of 1.7 percent. Looking at the two-year trend, casual dining same-store sales rose 1.1 percent in March.

Fast food reported the best trends in March, with same-store sales rising 4.8 percent. It was the only segment to show positive guest traffic, with an increase of 0.8 percent.

Fast-casual restaurants reported a same-store sales increase of 0.5 percent with a traffic decline of 1.8 percent.

Within the quick-service world, chicken concepts saw the biggest increase in March, with same-store sales rising 5.7 percent followed closely by burger concepts, which saw a 4.9-percent increase, the report said.