Restaurant traffic down in 2009

PORT WASHINGTON N.Y. Consumer visits to restaurants dipped 2 percent for the year ended in September, contributing to flat year-over-year sales for 2009, according to The NPD Group.

The Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD added that it does not expect traffic trends to turn positive until after June 2010.

In comparison, NPD said industry traffic grew by 0.5 percent for the year ended in September 2008 and by 1 percent in the same 2007 period.

NPD's CREST research, which continually tracks consumer usage of foodservice, found that traffic declined across all restaurant segments and dayparts for the September-ended year. Visits to quick-service restaurants, which represent the largest share of the industry, declined by 2 percent, while casual-dining traffic fell by 3 percent and guest counts at mid-scale concepts decreased 4 percent, according to CREST data.

"There are a variety of factors contributing to the declines in restaurant visits and spending, including high unemployment, and another is the difference between food prices at home and food prices away-from-home," NPD restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs said. "Food prices at supermarkets are less than a year ago, while restaurant prices are higher than a year ago."

The NPD's prediction of continued negative traffic trends into 2010 is not unlike the word from officials of Technomic Inc., who earlier said there is "a ways to go before we see a [traffic] rebound," while forecasting that 2009 and 2010 would mark the industry's first ever consecutive years of sales declines.

Unlike in 2008, traffic gains from consumers responding to meal deals in 2009 were not enough to keep overall traffic trends in the black. NPD said deal-related visits increased by 3 percent during the 12 months ended in September, but non-deal visits dropped by 4 percent. The 2008 research showed deal traffic up 4 percent, and non-deal traffic is down 1 percent.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected] [3].