nina | March 20th, 2012 - 9:00 am

Have you been eating more at restaurants with waiters rather than fast-food joints?

If so, you are not alone, and in fact is an indication that the American economy is improving.

Over the 12 months through January, sales at what the government calls full-service restaurants were 8.7 percent higher than in the previous 12 months. That was the fastest pace of growth since the late 1990s, when the economy was booming.

Since those numbers became available 20 years ago, that difference has been a reliable indicator of how the economy is going. In tough times, people may still eat out, but they cut back.  Full-service restaurants may or may not be expensive. The range at limited-service places is not nearly as wide.

Americans now spend about $220 billion a year at full-service restaurants, and $211 billion at the limited-service places. (They also spend $21 billion at what the government calls “drinking places,” also known as bars. Bar sales are now rising slower than at either type of restaurant, although history does not indicate that has any particular significance for the economy.)

Over time the relative sales trends of the different types of restaurants have generally coincided with changes in the gross domestic product numbers. But recently, that relationship seems to have broken down, with the economy growing much more slowly than the restaurant numbers would indicate.

Source:  The New York Times, 3.16.12

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