Restaurant industry sales are expected to reach a record $604 billion and post positive growth in 2011 after a three-year period of negative real sales growth, according to the National Restaurant Association 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast. Sales are projected to advance 3.6 percent over 2010 sales, which equals 1.1 percent in real (inflation-adjusted) terms.
Americans are spending generously on dining out and Louisiana diners are leading the trend. “This year Louisiana restaurants are on target to hit $6.2 billion in annual sales,” said Wendy Waren, spokesperson for the Louisiana Restaurant Association. “We see growth every year,” Waren said. “This year should finish out up two percent over 2010.”
A host of recent and upcoming restaurant openings in Louisiana, most with strong menu underpinnings showcasing the state’s seafood, bears out this prediction. In the southwestern part of the state, recent months have witnessed the openings of Cochon in Lafayette by Chef Donald Link, and Regatta on Lake Arthur. In the northeastern corner of the state, Chef Cory Bahr, the reigning King of Louisiana Seafood and current industry spokesperson, is building a restaurant empire in Monroe. This week he opens Cotton, with equally heavy menu representations of fresh seafood and wild game. Bahr plans to open a Northern Italian-style eatery next summer.
Two weeks ago Chef Philip Lopez opened Root, a chic eatery in New Orleans’ Warehouse District. Between mid-December and April the city will see a flurry of multi-million dollar venues coming online, among them are Restaurant R’evolution in the French Quarter by Chefs John Folse and Rick Tramonto. Less than a mile away, Chefs John Besh and Brian Landry are opening the seafood-centric Borgne, which will anchor a selection of dining destinations in the Hyatt Regency Hotel adjacent to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Across town on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Chef Duke LoCicero is about to break ground on Basin: A Seafood Camp. The sprawling Louisiana seafood destination will feature a 4,000 square foot dining space as well as a 375-foot long fuel dock outfitted with a shop for boating supplies and an open-air seafood market that will be filled with the daily catch of local fishermen.
John Williams, Co-Director of the Hospitality Research Center, and Interim Dean of the College of Business at the University of New Orleans, attributes the state-wide industry’s sustained growth to unique cultural factors. “Locals (here) eat out more,” Williams said. “They enjoy their local cuisines and support local restaurants. Also, more than 70 percent of the tourism base is made up of leisure travelers who, on return visits, invest more money on fine dining than in previous trips.” This has helped to shield the industry from a dependency on dwindling expense account budgets that has threatened other markets.
Images in slideshow are dishes from the following chefs and restuarants:
Chef Cory Bahr, Cotton in Monroe
Chef Brian Landry, Borgne in New Orleans
Chef Donald Link, Cochon in Lafayette
Chef Philip Lopez, Root in New Orleans’ Warehouse District
Chef Duke LoCicero, Basin: A Seafood Camp on Lake Pontchartrain