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    U.S. Restaurant Visits Strongest Since Spring 2008

    NPD Group reports strongest rate of traffic gain from Q1 2011 to Q1 2012.

    CHICAGO -- Mild winter weather contributed to more frequent consumer visits to restaurants and other foodservice outlets this winter, resulting in a 1-percent increase from the first quarter (January-March) of 2011 to Q1 2012. That marks the strongest rate of traffic gain since the spring of 2008, reported The NPD Group, whose recent foodservice market research report shows that U.S. consumers spent three percent more at commercial foodservice outlets this winter than they did one year ago. More than half of the increase came from increased checks.

    Despite the strong winter, traffic growth was confined to the quick service restaurant (QSR) and fine dining/upscale hotel segments, according NPD's CREST, which tracks the foodservice industry based on consumer reporting of over 400,000 visits to commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets each year.

    Visits to QSR locations increased by 2 percent over the same quarter last year; major quick service chains had the strongest traffic growth with a 3-percent increase in traffic; fine dining/upscale hotel restaurants grew traffic by 6 percent; and the midscale/family dining segment struggled, with visits going down by three percent in the first quarter. Additionally, visits to casual dining restaurants were down 2 percent compared to winter 2011, stated NPD.

    The morning meal daypart outpaced industry traffic by increasing visits 3 percent compared to one year ago, while lunch and dinner have held steady versus a year previously for the last two quarters. Visits during afternoon snack time increased by 1 percent. The quick-service segment grew during every daypart, with the strongest growth at the morning meal.

    "Thanks to unusually mild weather, winter 2012 was a bright spot for the foodservice industry; however, the economic environment will continue to be a challenge for the sector," says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "We forecast a slowdown in traffic growth for the balance of 2012 as the country continues its slow economic recovery."

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