Restaurant traffic loses momentum, will be flat through 2013

Restaurant traffic was slow in the spring. Business for 2012 and 2013 is expected to be flat.
(Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times)

It’s not looking good for the restaurant industry, which struggled through a slow spring season and will likely see flat traffic for the next two years.

Mild weather over the winter drove more diners to eat out, leading optimistic analysts to predict that the industry was recovering after being slammed in the recession. But those hopes were dashed as the year went on and restaurant visits rose a paltry 1% in the spring, according to research from the NPD Group.

Analyst Bonnie Riggs cited consumers’ “continuing cost-consciousness, still relatively high unemployment and economic uncertainty” as reasons for the industry’s disappointing performance.


Originally, NPD anticipated traffic to grow 1% each year in 2012 and 2013; now the group thinks traffic will be flat.

Some segments, especially fast food, continue to be strong. The so-called quick service sector brings in 78% of restaurant traffic and enjoyed a 2% boost in the spring. But visits to mid-scale family dining establishments and casual spots slid 3% and 2%, respectively.

Overall, however, the average diner spent 2% more in restaurants. Many restaurants are catering to young Millennial patrons who, though coping with joblessness, still made more than 12 billion visits to restaurants in 2011.

That demographic, which spent $73 billion on meals and snacks, visits restaurants more than any other age group. And half of Millennials, who are 18 to 34 years old, say they expect their personal financial situation to improve in the coming year, according to research group Technomic.

“Consumers may not be flocking to restaurants in droves, but they are going out, that’s good news,” Riggs said in a statement. “We’re also seeing that when they do dine out, they are trying new offerings, spending a little more and not relying totally on deals.”



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