CHICAGO -- Restaurant traffic, still feeling the impact of rising unemployment and thrifty consumers, declined in the spring quarter ending May 2009, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company.
NPD's "Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends" study concluded that total restaurant-industry traffic declined 2.6% during the quarter, versus the same period last year. This is reportedly the sharpest decline in traffic since 1981.
According to the study, all consumers -- and especially households with children -- cut back on visits to all restaurant segments. Adults from households with children, and the child segment itself (representing a third of industry traffic), have reportedly patronized restaurants less and less frequently for the past three quarters. Visits by adults in households without children were stable in the spring quarter.
Traffic was down 2% at quickservice and fast-food restaurants, NPD said, giving that segment declines in seven of the last nine months. Casual dining dropped 4% and midscale dining was down 6%. While per-visit spending rose 2% in the quarter, this increase failed to offset losses from traffic declines, yielding an overall 1% decline in consumer spending at commercial foodservice this quarter.
According to the research firm, consumers cut back on foodservice visits at all of the main meal occasions. Supper continued to absorb the steepest decline as consumers pulled back on visits at both QSR and full- service restaurants, and across both on-premise and off-premise visits. Morning meal and lunch also declined across all three segments this spring, each contributing to about a fourth of the industry's loss. QSRs fared a little better with morning meal and lunch visits than full-service restaurants, but still showed softness.
NPD also reported that the total number of restaurant units in the United States declined this spring versus last spring. Restaurant industry units were down 1%, or about 4,000 units, in the 2009 period, compared with no growth in 2008.