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    U. S. Restaurants See Slight Improvement in Traffic Counts

    Fourth-quarter traffic was flat, but spending increases.

    CHICAGO -- Although visits to U.S. restaurants are still below the level registered six years ago, there were signs of improvement in the second half of 2010, according to The NPD Group.

    Restaurant traffic was flat overall for the quarter ending December 2010, compared to a 3-percent decline for same quarter year ago. Quick service restaurants saw traffic increase 1 percent in the third quarter (July, August, September) and again in the fourth quarter (October, November and December).

    Another sign the foodservice industry is gaining ground: The number of non-deal transactions stopped declining, according to NPD’s CREST, which tracks consumer usage of commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets.

    Consumer spending at restaurants started to come back, according to the market research firm, as spending rose in the last three quarters of 2010. The gain brings the industry nearly back to the dollar level registered in 2008.

    “I believe that the improvements we’re experiencing in the industry are a result of pent up demand,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst at NPD. “Consumers are tired of pinching pennies and recession-weary and going to a restaurant is an affordable way to get out and have fun.

    “We are beginning to see many encouraging signs. However, with unemployment still over 9 percent and consumer confidence low, consumers continue to scrutinize every purchase. There’s no question value and promotion will continue to factor heavily in their restaurant selections. It will take a lot of creativity to drive more traffic in the coming year.”

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