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CHICAGO -- After eight consecutive quarters of decline, restaurants have seen their supper traffic rise for the past three quarters, as noted by The NPD Group.
Restaurant visits during the supper hours increased 2 percent and 1 percent in the third and fourth quarters of 2010, respectively, and another 2 percent in the first quarter of 2011, according to NPD's CREST service, which tracks consumer use of foodservice outlets.
With 78 percent of total industry traffic, quick-service restaurants are the driving force behind the climb. Midscale and casual dining visits remained weak, according to the report.
"The improvement may reflect some easing in unemployment, a modest improvement in consumer confidence, as well as a release of pent-up demand during the periods reported," explained Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "I also believe that rising food costs in-home have narrowed the gap between the price of food at-home and a restaurant meal."
In addition to the increased supper traffic, customer counts at commercial restaurants started to show improvement in the third and fourth quarters of 2010 over the same timeframe a year earlier. Customer counts ended the first quarter of 2011 flat, The NPD Group noted. Weekend visits recovered across all dayparts and families with kids have been frequenting restaurants once again over the past six months.
"There continues to be areas of weakness in the industry, but the industry did pick up in the last few prior quarters. It remains to be seen, however, if we'll be able to sustain the improvement given the current economic volatility," Riggs said. "All the reasons consumers go to restaurants -- convenience, varied selections, someone else doing the cooking -- are still valid and could continue to drive the industry's improvement."