Independent Closings Drive Overall 1% Unit Loss

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The total number of U.S. full-service and QSR restaurant units declined by 5,204, or 1%, this spring as compared with spring 2009 -- a decline driven almost entirely by a 2% overall unit loss among independents, according to The NPD Group.

The market research firm's foodservice industry ReCount data for the period April 1 through March 31, 2010 show total QSR units declining by 1% (down 2,521, to 306,127) versus the same period last year. Units among full-service restaurants (including casual dining, mid-scale and fine dining) also declined by 1% --down 2,683 to 273,289.

But independents are taking by far the hardest hit from the continuing economic downturn. Across all formats, independently owned units were down by 5,093, or 2%, to 311,548 -- while franchised and company-owned units that are part of national or regional restaurant chains were essentially flat, at 267,868.

Within the QSR sector, independent units dropped by a substantial 3% (down by 2,685, to 92,819), while chain units were again essentially flat (up by 164, to total 213,308).

And, while even chains saw a slight decline in units within full-service formats, presumably because of these formats' somewhat higher prices compared to QSRs, independents again suffered much greater impact.

Chain units within full-service segments were down 1% (to 54,560), but with their relatively small starting base, the actual unit loss was just 275. In contrast, independent full-service restaurants' 1% decline represented a significant loss of 2,408 units (down to 218,729 total).

"The unit losses seen in our latest census are a reflection of the weakness in the industry, with the greatest impact on independent restaurant operators," summed up NPD director, product development foodservice Greg Starzynski.

Visits to U.S. restaurants declined by 3% during the year ending in May, compared to a year ago, according to NPD CREST tracking data on usage of commercial and noncommercial foodservice outlets. Moreover, consumer spending in restaurants declined by 1% -- the first dollar decline recorded since NPD began its foodservice industry tracking in 1976.

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