Restaurants and the recession

Restaurants do serious business in Snohomish County. Predominately small businesses, altogether they are the largest private employer in the state, industry experts say. Restaurants took a hit in the recession, but people haven’t given up dining out: They just do it differently.

In 2012, the Washington Restaurant Association counted 1,366 restaurants in Snohomish County. The average does $631,932 in annual sales and employs roughly a dozen people.

Snohomish County restaurants

2009 2010 2011 2012
Restaurants 1,543 1,289 1,350 1,366
Sales $851,242,433 $857,807,317 $839,458,390 $863,219,606
Employees 18,276 18,122 17,127 17,066
Employee payroll $271,643,317 $272,983,108 $269,144,220 $276,503,656

Asian and American cuisines dominate local menus, though coffee shops and places that offer dessert are growing, too.

Market share by cuisine

Cuisine 2009 2010 2011 2012
Asian 20% 20% 22% 22%
Coffee and desserts 14% 15% 16% 16%
American, general 12% 13% 12% 12%
Pizza and Italian 11% 13% 12% 12%
Mexican 9% 9% 9% 9%
Burgers 8% 9% 8% 8%
Delis, sandwiches and subs 9% 9% 8% 7%
American, other 6% 6% 6% 6%
Pubs, bars and taverns 5% 5% 5% 5%
Other ethnic 2% 6% 2% 2%

In Washington and the U.S., the hot thing is healthy kids’ entrees, said Anthony Anton, the nonprofit’s president and CEO. People are looking for fruit instead of fries, baked instead of grilled, grilled instead of fried.

Diners also want local, sustainable meat, seafood, poultry, fruits and vegetables, he said.

“People are really relating to ‘Hey, this is from my area, I ought to give this a try,’” he said.

It’s a tough industry. Employment rates are crawling back up, but owners still are struggling to find financing to grow. Half of restaurants go out of business or change hands every five years, Anton said.

Employees per establishment

Employees 2009 2010 2011 2012
10-19 32% 36% 36% 30%
1-4 29% 27% 26% 29%
5-9 20% 20% 19% 25%
20-49 14% 13% 14% 12%
50-99 4% 3% 3% 3%
100 or more 1% 1% 1% 1%

In past recessions, people visited restaurants less often, saving the experience for special occasions. Today’s diners are busier, Anton said. They like to eat out to relax, and to spend time with family and friends, without the cooking and cleanup.

People are, however, more thrifty, visiting places a bit less fancy. They are ordering fewer appetizers, fewer drinks — the chicken instead of the rib eye.

Establishment gross sales

2009 2010 2011 2012
Less than $500,000 66% 79% 68% 68%
$500,000 to $1 million 19% 15% 17% 17%
$1 million to $2.5 million 12% 5% 13% 12%
$2.5 million or more 3% 1% 2% 2%

Percentages are rounded. Source: Washington Restaurant Association, which draws some data from the state departments of Revenue and Employment Security.

More about the restaurant business

Washington Restaurant Association: www.wrahome.com

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