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Winter Restaurant Visits Highest Since Spring 2008

Popeyes Louisiana Grill
Popeyes, fastest in same-store-sales among publicly traded chicken QSRs

CHICAGO — With a warm winter inviting all to come out and shop, consumers increased visits to restaurants and other commercial foodservice outlets by one percent in the first three months of 2011 compared to the same quarter a year ago. That's the strongest rate of traffic gain since the spring of 2008, according to market researcher The NPD Group.  The company 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 quick service restaurant and fine dining/upscale hotel segments, according to NPD's CREST research, which tracks 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 the 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 in the first quarter with visits down by three percent. Visits to casual dining restaurants were down two percent compared to winter 2011.

"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."

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.

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