By Jennifer A. Kingson, author of Axios What’s Next (Adapted from original post)

(June 5, 2024) – 2024 will be the U.S. restaurant industry’s biggest year ever in sales — $1.1 trillion by the end of December, per National Restaurant Association estimates.

Why it matters: The COVID-19 pandemic devastated the restaurant industry, but sales are now far higher than before it started — and climbing.

Driving the news: Total spending at U.S. food service establishments is expected to rise 5.4% this year, to $1.106 trillion, per the National Restaurant Association’s annual “State of the Restaurant Industry” report.

To grow their businesses in an increasingly competitive environment, restaurants are looking to technology, social media, and increased catering and delivery options.

State of play: There were more than a million unfilled jobs in restaurants and accommodations at the end of March, Korsmo said, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

What they’re saying: “There’s no doubt the future looks like more robotics in the kitchen,” Korsmo said in an interview following the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show in Chicago last month.

Between the lines: Inflation is prompting some diners to shift to lower-priced restaurants, seek out value meals, and take advantage of loyalty and rewards programs, Korsmo added.

By the numbers: 33% of restaurant operators expect sales to be higher this year than last, and 45% expect them to hold steady, according to a National Restaurant Association poll.

Zoom in: Consumer excitement around new international flavors, TikTok food trends, new takeout and delivery options, and food apps is buoying interest in restaurants.

Yes, but: Inflationary pressures and intensifying competition is squeezing margins for restaurant operators.

The bottom line: There’s a lot of fresh energy and vitality in the restaurant sector these days, which bodes well for people who enjoy dining out.