The number of U.S. restaurant locations increased by 0.5% in spring 2012 versus the same period in 2011, marking the first growth since 2009, according to The NPD Group's ReCount census for the period.
NPD said that the improving economy is driving revival in the industry, hard-hit since the start of the recession.
Earlier this year, NPD's CREST repored that visits to U.S. restaurants rose 1% and consumer spending in restaurants rose 2% during the 12 months ended May 2012.
Notably, the number of independent restaurant locations--which have been in decline since 2009--rose by 984 this past spring, to total 320,193.
Chain restaurant locations grew by 1,888, to total 272,367.
QSRs accounted for most of the units growth, increasing by 2,275, to total 315,401.
Full-service restaurant units, which include casual dining, mid-scale and fine dining, posted a 0.2% increase in locations versus spring 2011.
However, Greg Starzynski, director-product management, NPD Foodservice, said that while restaurant operators are showing increased willingness to invest in new locations, they will continue to take a more cautious expansion approach than was seen in the last decade.