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CHICAGO -- This spring was a bright spot for the restaurant industry as the number of visits and consumer spending ticked up. As a result, the industry posted a 0.5-percent gain in unit count, according to the most recent restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group.
Total restaurant units reached 592,960, an increase of 2,872 units and the first positive change since 2009. Broken out, NPD's "Spring 2012 ReCount" showed that the number of independent restaurants, which have been on the decline since 2009, posted a slight increase of 984 locations, bringing the total number of independent restaurants to 320,193. Chain restaurant units were up by 1,888 units to 272,367.
The Spring 2012 ReCount, which includes restaurants open as of March 31, 2012, also showed that most of the unit increase was in quick-service restaurants, which grew by 2,275 locations vs. year ago to a total of 315,401. Full-service restaurant units, which include casual dining, mid-scale, and fine-dining restaurants, posted a 0.2-percent increase from the Spring 2011 ReCount.
In addition, according to NPD's CREST report, visits to U.S. restaurants improved by 1 percent for the year ending May 2012 vs. a year ago, and consumer spending increased by 2 percent. NPD's CREST service tracks the foodservice industry based on consumer reporting of more 400,000 visits to foodservice outlets a year.
"With improvement in restaurant visits and spending, restaurant operators, especially in the quick-service segment, are more willing to invest in new locations," said Greg Starzynski, director of product management at NPD Foodservice. "However, I expect them to take a more cautious approach to expansion than we saw earlier in the past decade. This is particularly true of the full-service segment since expansion costs are significantly higher, and traffic and spending gains have not been as strong in this segment."