With both sales and employment continuing to gain ground in December, the industry’s business environment starts the year out strong.

Restaurant sales totaled $49.6 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis in December, according to preliminary figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, making it the eighth consecutive monthly increase in sales volume, as well as the strongest on record. National Restaurant Industry’s Chief Economist Bruce Grindy credits the recent run of strong sales gains to declining gas prices, which fell more than $1.40 during the last 6 months. Consumers used savings at the pump to dine out. December’s total eating-and-drinking-places sales signaled a 5% increase since June, raking in an additional $2.3 billion as compared to the mid-summer’s month seasonally-adjusted sales volume.

Employment within the restaurant industry mirrored sales, also registering continued gains in December. Preliminary figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate a net gain of 43,600 jobs among eating-and-drinking-places during the final month of the year on a seasonally-adjusted basis, marking the 58th consecutive monthly increase and strongest gain in two years.

The industry is not only surpassing its own historical employment growth, but moreover the country’s. Restaurants added jobs at a 3.1 percent rate in total for 2014, more than a full percentage point above the 1.9 percent growth rate of the U.S. as a whole making this the 15th consecutive year in which restaurant job growth outpaced the overall economy.While economic challenges remain, one of those being elevated food costs, the general outlook of the restaurant industry is promising. If economic fundamentals continue to improve, 2015 will be a great year for restaurants nationwide.

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