The restaurant industry has gone through tough times lately, with many traditional casual dining names falling prey to changing consumer preferences. The rise of fast-casual restaurants has shifted dining habits, and the greater tendency to use at-home entertainment options rather than eating out has challenged restaurants to keep traffic levels up. Even in this environment, a new restaurant ETF has recently opened, seeking to succeed where predecessors have failed. Given better timing, the restaurant ETF might fare better going forward if restaurant companies can find a way to rebound from their recent slump.


Assets Under Management

Expense Ratio

USCF Restaurant Leaders (NYSEMKT: MENU)

$2 million


PowerShares Dynamic Leisure & Entertainment (NYSEMKT:PEJ)

$240 million


Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR (NYSEMKT:XLY)

$12.2 billion


Data source: Fund providers.

Just getting started

The USCF Restaurant Leaders ETF is new, just having started operations in November 2016. The fund attempts to track the performance of the Restaurant Leaders INDXX Index, which uses a four-step selection process to identify restaurant companies that are either outperforming or are expected to outperform their competitors. The proprietary process uses two quantitative screens and two dynamic screens, with quarterly rebalancing to identify continuing leaders in the industry.

The ETF tries to keep a set allocation between quick-service restaurants and full-service restaurants, favoring the quick service segment with a 70% share. The roughly 30 holdings include giants of the fast-food world, pizza chains, newer fast-casual franchises, and full-service casual-dining establishments.

So far, it has been a tough slog for the ETF to attract assets, with its website claiming just $1.75 million in assets on 100,000 outstanding shares. Because of the small size of the fund, its gross expense ratio is extremely high, at 3.5%. The fund has done a fee waiver and expense reimbursement to cover 2.85 percentage points of that expense ratio, leaving investors paying a much more reasonable 0.65%. However, investors need to understand that there's no guarantee that the company will continue to provide reimbursement beyond October 2017, when its contractual agreement to do so ends. Moreover, with so few assets having been attracted, USCF might decide to give up on the ETF and liquidate existing shares rather than continuing to operate at a loss. That's what another ETF, simply named The Restaurant ETF, did late last year, having failed to gather any more assets than the USCF Restaurant ETF has now.

Big group eating out at a restaurant.

Image source: Getty Images.

Other ETFs for partial restaurant exposure

The benefit of the restaurant ETF is that it is a pure play on restaurant stocks. Other ETFs include some restaurant exposure, but they have a much broader scope in general.

The PowerShares Leisure & Entertainment ETF focuses on the industries that people use in their leisure time, which includes 30 companies in several areas of the market. Included in the PowerShares ETF are airlines, casino companies, cruise line operators, hotels, and movie theater operators as well as restaurants. All told, the ETF's restaurant exposure amounts to about 30% of the portfolio, making it a suitably diversified option for those who are willing to take on exposure to other entertainment-related industries.

The Consumer Discretionary Select SPDR is the catchall ETF for the sector that includes restaurants, and it has an even wider scope than the PowerShares ETF. Beyond the largest players in fast food and coffee, you won't find much restaurant exposure, and all told, the ETF just barely pushes above the 10% mark in its allocation to restaurant stocks.

What's ahead for restaurants?

Secular trends are working against many restaurant companies, and it's far from clear whether restaurant stocks will start to bounce back. If they do, then the new USCF Restaurant ETF is likely to attract at least some assets. But if restaurants stay weak, then this restaurant ETF could join others in closing up shop soon after it opened its doors.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.