Foodservice Equipment Reports

Slow U.S. Restaurant Unit Growth Continues, NPD Reports

The number of restaurant units in the U.S. grew at only a 0.7% pace for the 12 months ended Sept. 30, 2013, according to data from The NPD Group’s biannual ReCount census, released Feb. 26. The total number of commercial restaurants grew in net terms by 4,179 units during the period to a total of 633,043.

The slow pace of unit growth has been a feature of the mature U.S. restaurant business since the end of the Great Recession. “The restaurant recovery continues to move slowly and, as a result, operators are taking a cautious approach to expansion,” said Greg Starzynski, director-product management for NPD Foodservice. He expects “this conservative approach to restaurant unit expansion will continue into the foreseeable future.” The group noted that total U.S. restaurant visits remained flat in calendar 2013 at 61 billion.

Chains continued to add more units than independent operators last year. Total chain units grew to 281,613, adding 3,171 net units for a growth rate of 1.1% while net independent units rose 1,008 to 351,430, only 0.3% growth. ReCount numbers count total net units; estimates of the number of actual restaurants that close and open in any given year range from 5%-8%.

Of course, some restaurant segments grew faster than others. Fast-casual operators opened 902 units in the period, growing 6% to a total of 16,215. The growth of fast casual helped push quick-service unit growth as a whole 2% to a total of 333,970 units. Full-service units declined 1% to 299,073.

A subset of independents posted even faster growth than fast casual. Scott Hume, who produces the weblog burgerbusiness.com, posted last week that independent burger restaurants—those with only one or two units—grew 7.2% during the 12-month period to a total of 6,187, more than doubling the 2.7% growth of the same period ended Sept. 30, 2012, according to ReCount data.

Information on NPD’s foodservice research products is available at npd.com.

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