A 3% drop in the independent restaurant unit count compared to a year ago brought the total restaurant count in the United States down by 1% to 630,511 units, according to a census of US commercial restaurant locations compiled in the spring and fall each year by the NPD Group, a Chicago-based market research company.
The total restaurant count decrease was offset by a one percent increase in chain restaurant units. Fast casual chain units increased by 7%, based on NPD’s Spring 2015 ReCount, which includes restaurants open as of March 31, 2015.
The drop in independent restaurants was concentrated in the full service segment, which includes casual dining, midscale/family dining, and fine dining. Full service independent units were down 3%, while quick service independent units remained stable.
The overall decline in restaurant counts is a reflection of the stalled traffic growth experienced by the foodservice industry over the past several years. Independent traffic, quick service hamburger, and full service restaurant visit declines, particularly at midscale/family dining restaurants, are contributing to industry traffic not growing. Visits to total restaurants were flat in the year ending May 2015 compared to same period prior year, according to analysis from CREST, the foodservice market research arm of NPD.
Over a five-year period, traffic has declined by 3% at quick service hamburger chain restaurants and at midscale/family dining restaurants (including hotel midscale restaurants), respectively, and by 2% at independent restaurants. Quick service restaurants, which represent 79% of total industry traffic, were up 1%, while casual dining restaurants were flat after several years of decline in the year ending May 2015 period compared to year ago.
“It’s a tough road for independent restaurants, particularly in a down or even ‘soft’ economic climate,” said Greg Starzynski, director of product management at NPD Foodservice. “Independent operators do not have the resources of a chain to sustain themselves in slower times.”