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U.S. fine dining traffic declined by double-digits during the recession but visits have rebounded after the segment evolved to meet the needs of today’s foodservice consumer, reports The NPD Group, a global information company. Casual dress codes and environments, added value, increased business travel, and culinary enhancements are among the ways in which fine dining restaurants have changed to meet their customers’ needs.
Visits to fine dining restaurants were up 5 percent in the year ending December 2013 compared to double-digit visit declines during the same period in 2008, reports NPD’s CREST foodservice market research, which tracks daily how consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets. Fine dining traffic gains last year were ahead of the total foodservice industry, which ended 2013 with visits flat. The fine dining segment, which represents a small share of overall industry traffic but a 14 percent share of foodservice consumer spending, has been ahead of the industry in visits for the past three years.
The growth in fine dining traffic isn’t because of lower cost but rather higher perceived value. An average eater check at a fine dining restaurant was $28.55 last year compared to $5.32, the average eater check for quick service restaurants, which represent the bulk (78 percent) of total restaurant traffic. Casual dining restaurants have the next highest average eater check to fine dining at $13.75, but visits to this segment of restaurants have been down for the past several years.
“Fine dining restaurant operators are listening and responding to marketplace needs,” says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “There was a time when many of these restaurants were in such high demand that they decided who could visit and what they would pay. The recession hit and there was more supply than demand. Fine dining operators responded by making the changes necessary to appeal to their customer base and their customers have responded.”