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Families return to restaurants

NPD: Visits by parties with kids rise for the first time in 3 years

Families with kids visited restaurants in slightly greater numbers this summer, ending a three-year downward trend, the NPD Group said Wednesday.

For the August-ended quarter, restaurant visits by parties with kids increased 1 percent over the year-ago period, according to the NPD Group's data.

Bonnie Riggs, restaurant-industry analyst for the Chicago-based market research company, said the uptick in restaurant visits suggests that many families have become "recession-weary."

“They need to get out of the house a bit," she said. "[Restaurant dining] is a relatively inexpensive treat compared to taking the family to a sporting event or the theater or to the movies, because that’s gotten very costly.”

Riggs said the 1-percent rise in restaurant visits by families with kids in the summer followed flat traffic trends in the spring quarter and a 7-percent decline in last year's June-to-August period.

“That’s a positive sign, but we have to keep in mind that we are going against very weak trends a year ago,” she said.

Even though families with kids have cut back on dining out for much of the past three years, they still represent a sizeable market for the industry, accounting for 14 billion meals and snacks and $70 billion in sales in 2009, according to the NPD Group.

About 36 percent of all visits to restaurants are made by parties with kids, Riggs said. Of those visits, 81 percent are made to quick-service restaurants, 9 percent to family-dining eateries, and 10 percent to casual-dining concepts.

Operators can capitalize on the changing pattern, Riggs suggested, by targeting parties with kids with promotions, especially those that recognize families' financial concerns. For example, she pointed to the “kids-eat-free” promotions that many family-dining chains have offered over the past year.

“I think that has resonated with consumers, because if you look at casual-dining for the same time period they are still struggling in terms of parties with kids,” Riggs said.

Riggs warned that municipal regulations, such as restrictions on toys in kids' meals, will be an issue to watch.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors recently gave final approval to an ordinance that would prohibit the use of toys and other incentives in restaurant kids' meals that fail to meet certain nutritional requirements. Supervisors in the nearby California county of Santa Clara passed a similar measure in April.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected].

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