U.S. restaurant industry visits declined from 62.7 million in 2008 to 60.6 million in 2011 and independent restaurants accounted for 87 percent (2 million) of these traffic losses, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company. 

Independent restaurants, 7,000 of which have closed since 2009, have steadily lost traffic share to the major restaurant chains, whose unit growth has only offset half of independent unit losses, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research.  

Independent restaurants represented 28 percent of industry traffic in the year ending November 2008, and now represent 27 percent of the industry’s visits. Restaurant chains have held a steady share of industry visits since 2009, and gained the independent restaurants’ one percent share loss, increasing share from 60 percent in 2008 to 61 percent in 2011, according to NPD’s CREST service, which continually tracks consumer use of foodservice.

Based on NPD’s ReCount, a bi-annual count of U.S. restaurants, chains have grown by 4,511 units and the number of independent restaurants has decreased by 7,158 units since 2009. The recently released Fall 2011 ReCount reports that independent units were down by 2 percent from the Fall 2010 ReCount census and chain restaurant unit growth was flat. 

Total restaurant industry traffic for the year ending November 2011 was flat compared to a year ago, according to NPD’s CREST. Visits to chain restaurants were up +1 percent while visits to independent restaurants were down -4 percent for year ending November 2011.    

“Independent restaurant operators have neither the money nor resources that the chains have,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “They lacked the marketing power to drive traffic and the monetary buffer to get through the difficult times during the past several years.”

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