Supper visits increased 2% and 1% in the third and fourth quarters of 2010, respectively, and also increased 2% in this year's first quarter, shows NPD's CREST service, which tracks consumer use of foodservice outlets on an ongoing basis.
QSRs, which represent 78% of total industry traffic, drove the supper growth. Traffic in midscale and casual dining formats remained weak.
Other dayparts aren't showing sustained growth as yet. Morning meal traffic was up 1% for Q4 2010, but flat in Q1 2011. Lunch traffic was flat in Q4 and down 1% in Q1.
However, after eight consecutive quarters of traffic decline, overall customer counts at commercial restaurants also started to improve in the third and fourth quarters of 2010, and ended the first quarter of 2011 flat (compared to same year-ago periods). Visits to quick service restaurants were up 1% compared to a year ago.
Weekend visits recovered across all dayparts, and families with kids have been returning to restaurant over the last six months, reports NPD.
Through Q1, some easing of unemployment and pent-up eating-out demand contributed to traffic growth, says NPD restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs. And while unemployment trends took a turn for the worse after Q1, another factor driving restaurant traffic continues: rising grocery costs. "Rising food costs in-home have narrowed the gap between the price of food at-home and a restaurant meal," points out Riggs.
She adds, however, that given the current economic volatility, it remains to be seen whether restaurant industry improvements will be sustainable.