Foodservice Equipment Reports

U.S. Restaurant Traffic Was Flat For 12 Months Ended May, Says NPD

Sluggish growth in employment and wages, particularly among young adults, continues to undermine growth in restaurant traffic. Overall restaurant traffic was flat for the year ended in May, the NPD Group’s foodservice practice announced July 23, continuing a trend that has been apparent since the Great Recession. U.S. consumers made 61 billion visits to restaurants during the period, but that is down 1.3 billion from before the recession. And NPD’s long-range forecast for traffic growth shows little if any improvement for the next few years.

“There are some fundamental shifts in how consumers, particularly low- and middle-income consumers, address their discretionary spending,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant-industry analyst. “Going to a restaurant is a nice-to-have and not a need-to-have.”

A demographic that has driven the change in traffic patterns is young adults, traditionally the heaviest users of foodservice. With many un- or underemployed, they have cut back dramatically on restaurant visits. But even consumers ages 25-49 have cut back. Annual visits are down 44 per person in that group over the past three years. Overall, per capita restaurant visits have fallen to 192 a year from 208 a year during the two years before the recession.

“The restaurant industry is not going to see the strong growth it did prior to the recession in the near future,” Riggs said, “but the fact remains that U.S. consumers still make billions of visits to restaurants each year. It’s a matter of staying in touch with the reasons why they visit and providing them with the experience they want when they do eat out.”

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