Thursdayís report by the Texas Restaurant Association showing that the state restaurant industry is expected to grow 5.8 percent next year ó and 22.9 percent by 2018 ó is more than just evidence of thriving business within one particular segment. Conclusions can also be drawn concerning the overall health of the Texas economy as well as the hectic pace at which society is running. These are certainly mixed blessings.

On the positive side, as the association reports, the restaurant industry is a ďmajor driverĒ in both the national and Texas economy. It is a leader in job creation entering its 17th consecutive years of growth. Sales are expected to reach $33.7 billion in Texas next year, providing jobs for more than 995,000 Texans.

These trends are also evident at the national level, although the growth there is not as vigorous as it is in just Texas. All that translates into a statistic showing that U.S. consumers are now spending 48 percent of their food budget in restaurants.

Reasons for the continual increase in restaurant sales abound. Many households are now home to just one or two people, and they have the resources and flexibility to enjoy the variety and fellowship restaurants provide. Many larger families have two bread-winners, and itís more convenient to take everyone out ó assuming schedules mesh ó for a meal.

But there is a concern that dining out means dining separately for some families. The dining room table has long been a traditional place of bonding for American households. But most families have meetings, programs and social obligations booked from the close of school or business until late at night. Restaurants provide a welcome option for moms too busy to cook, and for families scrambling too fast to sit down together. We canít blame the industry if Americans donít always appreciate the importance of scheduling time to be with their loved ones.

Whether itís at home or at a favorite neighborhood diner, family time is crucial to the fabric of society, and spending it over a meal ó wherever itís served ó is the best way for that to be arranged. Many families will be making such plans over the Christmas holidays. Itís a good practice to continue in the coming year.

Brownwood Bulletin