NJ restaurant industry getting a better start in 2015
New Jersey's restaurant industry seems to be faring better this winter, but experts are still trying to determine why.
The climate, both meteorological and economic, appears to be helping.
New Jersey Restaurant Association President Marilou Halvorsen said a somewhat milder winter is a factor "that certainly has helped business. We're not sure if it's due to the economy, or if it's due to the better weather that we're having this first quarter."
But an improving economic climate is also putting more money in consumers' pockets for dining out, as hiring increases and gas prices continue to go down.
"Having lower gas prices helps everybody, from the customers driving to the restaurants, to having goods delivered to the restaurants," Halvorsen said.
She said last year in December and January, the weather was "horrendous."
"It really hurt the hospitality industry," Halvorsen said. "People were not going out, you know, they were stuck at home."
This season, having much better weather over the Christmas period and on New Year's Eve certainly has helped the restaurant and hospitality business.
Halvorsen said higher-end restaurants have been outperforming some of the more family-style establishments. She chalks that up to marketing, "but when they're going, (customers are) really going to more higher-end, and trying to have an experience."
Halvorsen sees optimism for the future in this new year.
"Hopefully we will see the economy and the business climate in New Jersey continue to do better, obviously because as many people know, the restaurant industry is the largest private sector employer in the state of New Jersey," she said. "According to industry figures for the year 2013, the New Jersey restaurant industry accounted for $14.2 billion in sales and 318,200 jobs."
The industry has opposed recent increases in the minimum wage, with some insiders expressing fears it would cripple the restaurant industry in the state. But up to now, it seems, larger restaurants and chain establishments have been able to better absorb the change than smaller businesses.