Research released today by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) shows that Americans are looking for healthier options and "greener" restaurants when they dine out, in addition to an increased interest in value and convenience. Surveys of restaurant operators, customers and chefs indicate that restaurateurs will sharpen their appeal in 2009 in these areas and that restaurants’ responsiveness to customers’ preferences will drive these industry trends, according to the association's 2009 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

Restaurateurs will also continue to show increasing leadership in becoming greener in 2009 by taking actions such as reducing energy and water use-in step with patrons’ interest in environmental issues. About four in 10 full-service restaurant operators and nearly three in 10 quickservice operators say they plan to devote more of their 2009 budgets to green initiatives. Restaurant patrons like the idea: 44 percent surveyed recently said they are likely to make a restaurant choice based on an operation’s practices in the areas of energy and water conservation.

Entering 2009, the forecast projects that consumers feel tugged in two directions. On one hand, consumers express serious concern about finances, with nearly all reporting that they are more worried about the economy than they were the year before. On the other hand, consumers remain strongly desirous of continued—and even increased—use of restaurants.

Forty-five percent of adults say restaurants are an essential part of their lifestyle, one of three say they are not eating out as often as they wish, and 35 percent of adults say that on a weekly basis, they are not purchasing take-out foods to go or having it delivered as often as they would like.

To be successful during the present economic downturn and prepare for an eventual recovery with its pent-up demand for restaurant services, operators are offering the value patrons desire in conjunction with operational improvements that cut costs without detracting from the dining experience. The top trend restaurateurs see for 2009 is an expanded focus on value, with 36 percent of quickservice operators and 16 percent of casual-dining operators seeing the demand for value as the year's top trend in their segment.

The restaurant industry's resilience amidst the weak economy and relative strength compared to other industries is driven by restaurants' responsiveness to consumers' desire for convenience, value and socialization. The increasingly essential nature of restaurant services buoys the industry even during times of economic uncertainty: Nearly seven in 10 adults agreed in a recent National Restaurant Association survey that purchasing meals from restaurants, take-out and delivery places makes it easier for families with children to manage their day-to-day lives, and nearly eight in 10 agreed that going out to a restaurant with family and/or friends gives them an opportunity to socialize and is a better way for them to make use of their leisure time rather than cooking at home.

As American adults buy a meal or a snack from a restaurant 5.8 times per week on average, restaurants will keep their finger on the pulse of consumer trends. Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach a record $566 billion in 2009.