Although the economy is still recovering, the restaurant industry is projected to expand in 2012, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2012 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

The research indicates that total restaurant industry sales are expected to reach a record high of $632 billion in 2012 for a 3.5 percent increase over 2011. This represents the second consecutive year that industry sales have hit at least $600 billion. As the second largest private-sector employer in the U.S., the restaurant industry is believed to employ 12.9 million people in 2012, which equates to 10 percent of the total U.S. work force.

"As our nation slowly recovers from the economic downturn, restaurants continue to be a vital part of American lifestyles and our nation's economy," says Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association. "We expect the nation's nearly 1 million restaurants to post sales of $632 billion this year. Combine that with the fact that restaurant job growth is expected to outpace the overall economy for the 13th straight year, and it's clear that the restaurant industry is once again proving to be a significant economic stimulant and strong engine for job creation."

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