US Indie Restaurant Count Down, But Still 50%+ of Total

There is a flipside to the gloomy news about independent restaurants in the United States, according to the NPD Group. While the number of independent restaurant units in the nation dropped by three percent, 346,105 independent restaurants remained opened, which represents over half of the 647,288 commercial restaurant units in the US, based on the Chicago-headquartered global information company’s Fall 2017 ReCount restaurant census.

Independent commercial restaurant operators are forecast to spend about $39 billion with foodservice manufacturers and broadline foodservice distributors in 2018 and will represent 15% of total restaurant operator spend, according to NPD’s Foodservice Future Views, which sizes operator spend by foodservice markets and product categories.

Restaurant visits overall have been flat to declining for the last several years, and visits to independent restaurants have declined by two percent over the last five years. In the quarter ending March 2018, independent traffic declined by one percent and total restaurant visits and chain traffic were flat compared to same period year ago. Still there were 60.5 billion total foodservice visits made in the past year, and 13 billion of those visits were made to independent restaurants.

Another sign that there are independent restaurants doing well is that independent operators purchasing enough volume to order from broadline foodservice distributors have been increasing their spending and orders with broadline foodservice distributors. Independent operators, who represent a third of broadline foodservice distribution dollars, increased their purchases with leading broadline distributors by two percent and cases ordered by two percent in the quarter ending March 2018 compared to same quarter year ago, reports NPD.

“If restaurant chains are the backbone of the United States foodservice industry, then independent restaurants are the heart because they went into the business for the love of it,” said Warren Solochek, a senior vice president at NPD. “Independent restaurant operators do face different challenges than chains since they have less resources and capital to withstand tougher times, but there are many that are thriving and contributing to the overall vibrancy of the American foodservice market.”