Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

More Canadians going out for dinner; Jets key here

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RESTAURANT visits are on the rise in Manitoba, and a market research groups says it's part of a national trend that will see visits increase by nearly 10 per cent in Canada over the next five years.

In a study released this week, titled A Look into the Future of Foodservices, the NPD Group said the national rebound is already underway. It said visits were up three per cent in each of the final two quarters of 2011.

And it predicts they'll climb by a further 9.1 per cent between now and 2013, which would be a marked improvement from the zero growth seen over the last five years.

While the NPD Group doesn't provide a separate forecast for Manitoba, local industry officials said Thursday the resurgence is already underway here.

"For us it started to grow in the second quarter of last year," said Andrew Shefchyk, director of marketing for the Boston Pizza-Enright Group, which owns and operates 11 Boston Pizza franchises in Manitoba. "We really saw some marked growth at that time."

The executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association said local operators are still experiencing peaks and valleys in traffic volumes.

"One of the things we're hearing... is that they (customers) are lined up on Saturday nights, but Monday and Tuesday nights are slow," Scott Jocelyn said. "But we definitely seem to be over the worst of it..."

The NPD Group attributes the national upswing to a number of factors, including a growing number of quick service restaurants (QSRs), which cater to consumers on the go, and to more baby boomers and young adults dining outside the home.

"Traditionally some of the industry's most frequent clientele, the millennial age group -- those in their late teens and early 20s -- is anticipated to account for the lion's share of visits to restaurants by 2016," said Robert Carter, executive director of foodservice for the group.

Carter said a growing number of baby boomers now have the means and the opportunity to dine outside the home more often. And they're taking full advantage of it, noting restaurant visits by that age group have increased twofold in the last 10 years.

Restaurants are also featuring healthier foods on their menus, which also appeals to the health conscious.

Jocelyn and Shefchyk agreed millennials and baby boomers will also play a role in the local revival. But for Shefchyk, the two biggest factors so far have been the return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg and the weather.

"The great weather we had last summer helped restaurants and patios across the board. And we've had a very mild winter, and that's been terrific, too. Lots of people out and about and not too many days lost because of bad weather," he said.

"And ever since May 31, Manitoba has been on a real high with the Jets," he said. "Suddenly we have an extra 82 occasions when you have people gathering in groups to watch the Jets (on TV). It really is remarkable the impact it has had."

Shefchyk and Jocelyn said it's not just eateries within a slapshot of the MTS Centre that have been reaping the benefits. Many suburban restaurants also have been cashing in by offering various incentives to attract Jets fans on game days.

"Some of them have been very creative in that way," Jocelyn added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2012 B3

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