• Kyodo News

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Restaurant operators saw a 1.5 percent drop in combined sales in 2009 on an all-store basis, marking the first fall in six years, according to the Japan Food Service Association.

Although customers increased a marginal 0.2 percent, average spending dropped 1.7 percent, the first decline in four years. The fall reflected an increased consumer preference for low-priced items, especially since late last year, the association said.

“Consumers are still inclined to tighten their purse strings,” said an official of the association, which represented 185 firms with 29,158 outlets as of December. “Uncertainty regarding the future may continue for some time.”

Family-style restaurants saw a 4.7 percent drop in customers, due in part to the swine flu epidemic, marking the second consecutive year of decline.

Pubs including “izakaya” saw a 5.8 percent fall in sales, while sales at coffee shops tumbled 5.1 percent.

Fast-food chains, which generally offer low-price menus, logged a 2.5 percent rise in revenues and a 2.7 percent gain in the total number of customers.

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