Strong sales and traffic levels, as well as increasing optimism from restaurant operators, have helped to push one of the restaurant industry's most important tracking indexes to its highest point in more than two years.

RPI over 102 points in May
The National Restaurant Association's monthly composite index, the Restaurant Performance Index, monitors the rises and falls that the restaurant industry experiences. In May, the RPI reached a new level of 102.1. This was an increase of about half a percentage point from the previous month, the third consecutive monthly gain and the strongest overall metric seen in the index since March 2012. Also of note, the RPI held a position above 100 for 15 consecutive months, which indicates the restaurant industry has seen overall growth for more than a year.

"Positive sales results fueled the May increase in the RPI, as nearly two-thirds of restaurant operators said their same-store sales rose above year-ago levels," said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the Association. "In addition, restaurant operators are increasingly optimistic about continued sales gains in the months ahead, a sentiment that is also showing up in their capital expenditure plans."

The Index itself is made of two separate elements. First is the Current Situation Index, which measures the current and future reports of sales, traffic, labor and capital expenditures during the month. May saw that figure rise by 0.7 percent from April, gaining for the third month straight. Meanwhile, the Expectations Index, which measures the six-month outlook for four different industry indicators, stood at 102.2 in May, holding steady at its level from the previous month.

Chicken a growing topping favorite
In trying to latch on to this growing trend, restaurants may want to consider new strategies for their success. Nation's Restaurant News reported that chicken is one way to meet consumer demand, not as a main dish, but as a topping.

The news source found that customers everywhere are increasingly looking for chicken products as toppings. These range from salads to pizzas in most locations, though some are experimenting with more tried-and-true recipes like chicken and waffles.

Hospitality and restaurant industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, leaders in food service equipment financing. Marlin is a nationwide provider of equipment financing solutions supporting equipment suppliers and manufacturers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.