Restaurant traffic sputtered and dropped in the spring during the second quarter of 2011, as consumers began to feel their discretionary income squeezed, according to new research from The NPD Group.
Guest counts at restaurants decreased 0.4 percent from April to June, compared with the same period a year earlier, Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD found. Total restaurant sales increased 1.5 percent in the second quarter, due to a 1.8-percent increase in the nationwide average check offsetting traffic declines.
In the preceding three quarters, guest counts and average checks had risen, albeit weakly. Total sales increased 1.1 percent, 2 percent and 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2011 and the fourth and third quarters of 2010, respectively.
“The consumer demand in the prior three quarters wasn’t strong enough to overcome another bump in unemployment, rising gas and commodity prices, and low consumer confidence,” said Bonnie Riggs, The NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst. “The confidence they had in the latter part of last year and the beginning of this year was eroded by bad economic news.”
Traffic at quick-service restaurants was flat for the second quarter, NPD found. Midscale restaurants’ guest counts decreased 4 percent, while casual-dining traffic declined 2 percent. Fine dining, which experienced severe traffic declines in 2009 and the first half of 2010, saw guest counts rise in the second quarter of 2011.
NPD also tracked guest counts at on-site restaurants, which fell 2 percent in the second quarter, compared with a year earlier. While still negative, that traffic figure was a less severe decrease than what the sector typically recorded through the recession.
The market research firm forecasted that the foodservice industry will end 2011 with a 1-percent increase in traffic, compared with the previous year. If realized, that gain would put total traffic at 2009 levels, but well below peak years of 2007 and 2008.