U.S. independent restaurants on the decline

February 24, 2016

The total U.S. restaurant count decreased slightly (-0.6%) from a year ago to 629,488 units, according to a count of U.S. commercial restaurant locations compiled in the spring and fall each year by The NPD Group. A 2% decline in independent restaurant units was the sole contributor to the total restaurant decline, based on NPD’s Fall 2015 ReCount, which includes restaurants open as of Sept. 30, 2015. Chain restaurant units increased by 1% from a year ago from 289,726 to 292,943 units.

The 2% decline in independent restaurant units sourced to both the quick-service and full-service segments. The higher concentration of independent units, however, is in the full-service segment, which includes casual dining, midscale/family dining, and fine dining. Most of the full-service unit declines were in the casual and fine dining categories, and in the quick-service segment the sandwich/Mexican-type restaurants had the steepest unit decline. The fast casual quick-service category continues to expand, increasing units by 5% from 18,176 in the fall 2014 to 19,043 in the fall 2015.

U.S. restaurant visits in the year ending December 2015 nearly returned to pre-recession levels, up 700 million visits from 2010, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research, CREST. Visits to quick-service restaurants, which represent 79% of total industry traffic, were up 1%, while full-service restaurant traffic, representing 21% of total visits, declined.

“There is still a cautious approach to expansion overall as the restaurant sector continues to recover, but chains are slowly adding on units and the fast casual quick-service category continues to grow,” said Greg Starzynski, director product management, NPD Foodservice. “Independent restaurants are historically less stable, not having the same resources as chains to get through more difficult times.”

Press release