US Restaurant Visits Should Edge Up in 2016, Says NPD

During 2015 the foodservice industry in the United States recovered customer volume lost during the Great Recession, and will end the year with total traffic reaching 61 billion, visits up 1 percent and a consumer spending gain of 3 percent compared to the previous year, according to the Chicago-based NPD Group, a global market research information company. Among the growth drivers are the continuing strength of breakfast foods consumed away from home, quick service restaurant (QSR) traffic gains, menu innovation and all things bacon, BBQ and steak.  

NPD Group restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs outlined key growth factors as follows: 

Morning Still Hot
Breakfast is still the fastest growing foodservice daypart and accelerating. All-day breakfast at McDonald’s and burgers for breakfast at Burger King both seemed to satisfy consumers’ demand for around-the-clock breakfast food in 2015.

Quick Service Restaurants
Quick service restaurants were the strongest performing segment, representing 79 percent of all foodservice visits. The QSR Fast Casual category increased visits by 8 percent and retail convenience store foodservice traffic grew by 2 percent. These two top growing QSR categories are on opposite ends of the price spectrum, but both are meeting consumers’ needs for quality, convenience and value. Total growth for the QSR segment was 1 percent.

Age 50+ Consumers
Older adults drove most of the industry traffic growth and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future.

Meat Focus
Everything BBQ, bacon and steak was popular, with compelling offerings from places like Arby’s, Carl’s Jr., Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Applebee’s.

Hot & Spicy
Sriracha, Ghost Peppers and Jalapeño kicked up menus and consumer satisfaction. Hot and spicy menu items appeal the most to Millennials and Gen Z diners.

As for the future, the NPD Group predicts that total foodservice traffic will increase by 1 percent in 2016. Although this is modest growth, restaurant operators are “beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” according to Riggs.

“It has been a long and slow recovery, but the foodservice industry has recovered nearly all of the steep traffic losses incurred after the recession began in 2008,” she said. “QSRs have and will continue to support the traffic gain, while casual dining visits are forecast to hold steady and midscale to decline by 1 percent.  With continued focus on consumers’ ever changing wants and needs, the industry can alter the current forecast of minimal growth. After all, forecasts are not cast in stone.”