The number of restaurant chain locations is on the rise, while the independent restaurant population is shrinking, according to global information company The NPD Group.
The overall number of restaurants in the country fell 1 percent last year, to 630,964 units, from 635,033 a year earlier, between Sept. 30, 2013, and the same date in 2014, according to ReCount, the restaurant census that NPD conducts each spring and fall.
Restaurant chain locations actually rose during the period, by 1 percent, to 287,312, from 283,600. But nearly 8,000 fewer independent restaurants were open compared with the previous year, 343,652, a 2-percent decrease from 351,433 in the fall of 2013.
Full-service independent restaurants were hardest hit, with unit counts falling 3 percent, while the number of limited-service independent restaurants remained flat. Overall, the number of limited-service restaurants among both independents and chains increased 1 percent, led by fast-casual chain locations, NPD reported.
The shift in the number of restaurants in each category reflects prevailing trends in restaurant traffic, NPD said. Traffic overall was flat for the calendar year 2014, but visits to quick-service restaurants, which represent 79 percent of traffic, rose 1 percent, while full-service traffic fell 2 percent.
“Without the increase in fast-casual chain units, we would be seeing greater declines in restaurant counts,” Greg Starzynski, NPD Foodservice’s director of product management, said in a press release. “Until consumers show an increase in their visit frequency, we are not expecting much in the way of broad-scale unit expansion.”
Select markets had better news. The Las Vegas area in particular saw a restaurant boom, adding 163 locations over the course of the year, a 4-percent increase, to 4,469 units.
The metropolitan area of Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla., also saw a 4-percent increase in restaurant unit count, to 1,372.
Other relative restaurant boomtowns, each seeing 3-percent restaurant growth, were the metropolitan areas of San Jose, Calif.; Boise, Idaho; and Madison, Wis.
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