Restaurants sales may exceed $660 billion in '13

That's nearly 4% higher than 2012; would be 4th consecutive year of growth

The American restaurant industry is headed into a year full of obstacles, including health coverage costs related to health care reform, employee turnover, rising food costs and weak consumer spending.

Still, the National Restaurant Association predicts that the country's 980,000 eateries will pull in more than $660 billion in sales in 2013 — or 3.8 percent more than this year's revenue stream. If the forecast is accurate, restaurants will enjoy four consecutive years of real sales growth.

The industry will employ 13.1 million people in 2013, according to the Tuesday report. That's a 2.4 percent rate of employment growth, which is slower than the 3 percent pace set by restaurants this year but still much higher than the overall 1.4 percent rate among all employers.

In the next decade, the association expects restaurants to hire 1.3 million new employees, bringing the total food-service workforce to 14.4 million by 2023.

The tepid economy and continuing high unemployment still gives consumers second thoughts about their discretionary spending. Nearly half of Americans say they don't patronize restaurants as often as they'd like.

And more than 7 in 10 consumers say they're looking for more healthful and locally sourced menu items at restaurants — a trend that even industry giants such as McDonald's have been hustling to follow.

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