Visits to U.S. Restaurants this Winter Strongest Since Spring 2008

Motivated by mild winter weather consumers increased their visits to restaurants and other commercial foodservice outlets by one percent in the first quarter (January, February, and March) of this year compared to the same quarter year ago, the strongest rate of traffic gain since the spring of 2008, reports The NPD Group , a leading market research company. NPD’s foodservice market research reports that U.S. consumers spent 3 percent more at commercial foodservice outlets this winter than they did a year ago with over half of the increase coming from increased checks.

While the winter of 2012 was a strong quarter for the foodservice industry, traffic growth was confined to the quick service restaurant and fine dining/upscale hotel segments, according to NPD’s CREST®, which rigorously tracks the foodservice industry based on consumer reporting of over 400,000 visits to commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets a year. Visits to quick service restaurants increased by two percent over same quarter last year, and major quick service chains had the strongest traffic growth with a three percent increase in traffic. Fine dining/upscale hotel restaurants generated a six percent increase in traffic. The midscale/family dining segment continued to struggle with traffic down in the quarter by three percent. Visits to casual dining restaurants were down two percent compared to winter 2011.

CREST OnSite®, which tracks usage of foodservice at business and industry, secondary schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, lodging, recreation, senior care, military and vending segments, reports that total non-commercial traffic declined by two percent in the first quarter compared to year ago. Secondary school occasions grew three percent on top of modest gains a year ago. Foodservice traffic at lodging venues increased over year-ago for the sixth consecutive quarter. Traffic gains were offset by declines in other non-commercial foodservice channels, notably college and university, business and industry, hospital, and vending.

The morning meal daypart continued to outpace industry traffic with visits up three percent compared to same quarter year ago. Lunch and supper have continued to hold traffic steady versus year-ago for the past two quarters while visits at PM Snack increased by one percent. The quick service segment grew at every daypart, with the strongest growth at 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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