Restaurant visits have fallen across the country since the recession, and the bulk of those lost customers – 87% – abandoned independent eateries.
Americans ate out 60.6 billion times last year, according to research company the NPD Group. That's down from 62.7 billion in 2008 and flat compared to 2010.
Of the 2.1 billion visits lost, 2 billion would have been to independent establishments.
Instead, consumers are patronizing larger restaurant chains, which have added 4,511 units since 2009. But from fall of 2008, more than 7,000 independent eateries have closed. Last year alone, visits to chain restaurants were up 1% while meals at standalone businesses slumped 4%.
Small restaurant operations now make up 27% of the U.S. restaurant industry after steadily losing market share to chains.
"Independent restaurant operators have neither the money nor resources that the chains have," says Bonnie Riggs, an analyst with NPD in a statement. "They lacked the marketing power to drive traffic and the monetary buffer to get through the difficult times during the past several years."