MANITOBA'S bar and restaurant industry is cookin' as a growing population, wage increases and a return of NHL hockey push up sales at one of the fastest paces in the country.
Statistics Canada figures issued Wednesday show the industry rang up the biggest monthly sales increase in the country in the final month of 2012 -- up 2.2 per cent to $124.1 million from $121.4 million in November.
Not only that, the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association (CRFA) predicts Manitoba's restaurant sales will grow at one of the fastest paces in Canada over the next two years.
The association's Manitoba vice-president said sales are expected to grow by 3.8 per cent this year and by four per cent in 2013.
That should make it one of the top three performers in the country, Dwayne Marling said, with only Alberta and Saskatchewan expected to show bigger sales increases.
"And we wouldn't be surprised if Manitoba exceeds our projections, because we now expect the overall economy to grow faster than was originally projected," Marling said.
A number of factors are helping to fuel stronger bar and restaurant sales in Manitoba, including a growing population, an anticipated increase in disposable income for many Manitobans and the return of NHL hockey, Marling said.
"The return of the Jets to Winnipeg and to Manitoba has had a very positive impact on all restaurant sales, particularly those in the downtown core" where the MTS Centre is located, he said.
Local bar and restaurant officials said earlier this month the return of the Jets has provided a big shot in the arm. That and the unseasonably warm weather this winter -- a factor that was also cited by Marling. "Any time the weather co-operates, people are more inclined to be out and about far more and to be interested in paying a visit to restaurants of all types," he said.
That was certainly the case in December and the sales totals showed it. Manitoba's increase was more than double the national average increase of 0.8 per cent. The next closest province was Saskatchewan at 1.6 per cent.
Manitoba also tied with Saskatchewan for the third-biggest increase in sales for all of 2011, at 5.5 per cent.