WASHINGTON – This year could be a better year for US restaurants than the past three. This is especially true in the South Atlantic states, according to the National Restaurant Association's 2011 Restaurant Industry Forecast.

The South Atlantic, of the nine US Census regions, is expected to post the strongest restaurant sales growth at 3.9%, totaling $93.9 billion among its eight states (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia) and the District of Columbia.

Solid advancements in employment, disposable income and population are driving growth in those states and the industry as a whole. Some South Atlantic states were hit harder than many other states by the recession, and as a result, sales growth will accelerate faster in those areas as the economy recovers.

Among the 50 states, North Carolina is expected to post the strongest sales growth in 2011 at 4.2% (industry sales are projected at $14.1 billion), followed by Idaho ($1.8 billion) and Virginia ($12.8 billion) at 4.0%. Forecast to post growth at 3.9%: Colorado ($8.6 billion), Florida ($30.1 billion), Maryland ($9.4 billion) and Texas ($36.7 billion).

Regarding industry employment in the states, Texas will post the strongest growth over the next decade at 17.3%. Florida follows at 16.7%, and then Arizona at 16.1%.