As far as the recession-driven slump in restaurant sales is concerned, “the worst is over,” food analyst Harry Balzer told participants of the National Chicken Council Annual Conference in Washington last Wednesday. In the third quarter of 2010, restaurant sales bounced back after five quarters of decline, he says.

Based on actual sales reported by 39 leading restaurant chains, the change in weekly same-store sales hit 3% higher in some weeks in the third quarter after plunging as low as 6% lower in the first quarter of 2010 and spending most of 2009 in negative territory, said Balzer, who is chief industry analyst and vice president of The NPD Group in Chicago.

Chicken remains tied with pork with a share of about 26% of restaurant meals, with beef in first place with about 33%, Balzer adds.

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