Foodservice Equipment Reports

U.S. Restaurant Counts Fell By 1% In 2014, Reports NPD

The flat or falling customer traffic experienced by many restaurant operators since the Great Recession apparently also is having an effect on total unit counts. The NPD Group’s biannual ReCount restaurant census for the year ended Sept. 30, 2014, recorded a 1% decline in total restaurant units, from 635,033 in 2013 to 630,964 at the end of September last year.

The decline can be traced to independent and full-service operations, with independents as a group losing 2% of total units. Full-service independent unit counts fell 3%, while quick-service independents saw stable counts. Quick-service restaurants, driven by unit growth of fast-casual concepts, recorded a 1% gain in units for the period, as did all chain restaurants. Independents still outnumber chain units 343,652 to 287,312.

NPD attributed the decline in U.S. restaurants in part to flat traffic. Total visits were flat again in 2014, though traffic surged in the last quarter. Traffic has been flat or negative every year since 2008 with the exception of a 1% gain in 2012. By segment, quick-service traffic rose 1% for the year, again driven by growing visits to fast-casual concepts. Visits to full-service concepts, including mid-scale, casual-dining and fine-dining concepts, fell 2% last year.

“Without the increase in fast-casual chain units, we would be seeing greater declines in restaurant counts,” said Greg Starzynski, director-product management, at NPD Foodservice. “Until consumers show an increase in their visit frequency, we are not expecting much in the way of broad-scale unit expansion.” NPD has forecasted a 1% gain in overall restaurant traffic for 2015.

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