After Years of Weakness, Casual Dining Traffic Stabilizes Resulting in its Highest Growth in Dollars Since 2011

Chicago, April 29, 2015 — Flat is the new up for the casual dining restaurant segment. After years of sometimes steep traffic declines, casual dining visits stabilized in the year ending February 2015, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Visits to major and small casual dining chains drove growth while visits to independents declined. Casual dining spending increased by 2 percent in the period compared to year ago, according to NPD’s foodservice market research.

Source: The NPD Group/CREST®, year ending February 2015

Weekday casual dining traffic held steady for the second year in a row whereas weekend visits declined, but at a slower rate than last year. Improving employment and consumer confidence contributed to visit stability during the week. Visit declines at lunch, on a deal, and by families with kids were the drivers behind the weekend traffic losses.

The main two dayparts for the casual dining segment are dinner, which represents 59 percent of the segment’s traffic, and lunch, which represents 33 percent. For the year ending February compared to year ago, dinner visits were down 1 percent and lunch visits were flat.

“It’s been a rough road for casual dining operators. Major and small chains, which have the capital to hang in there and the marketing power to promote, are beginning to see the fruits of their labor,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “To grow visits, however, casual dining operators will need to understand the needs of today’s restaurant consumer. What these consumers wanted ten years ago is different than what they want today.”

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