The total U.S. restaurant count decreased slightly (-0.6 percent) from a year ago to 629,488 units, according to a count of U.S. commercial restaurant locations compiled in the spring and fall each year by The NPD Group, a leading global information company. A 2 percent decline in independent restaurant units was the sole contributor to the total restaurant decline, based on NPD’s fall 2015 ReCount, which includes restaurants open as of September 30, 2015. Chain restaurant units increased by 1 percent from a year ago from 289,726 to 292,943 units.   

The 2 percent decline in independent restaurant units sourced to both the quick service and full service segments. The higher concentration of independent units, however, is in the full service segment, which includes casual dining, midscale/family dining, and fine dining. Most of the full-service unit declines were in the casual and fine dining categories, and in the quick-service segment the sandwich/Mexican-type restaurants had the steepest unit decline. The fast-casual quick-service category continues to expand, increasing units by 5 percent from 18,176 in fall 2014 to 19,043 in fall 2015.

U.S. restaurant visits in the year ending December 2015 nearly returned to pre-recession levels, up 700 million visits from 2010, according to NPD’s ongoing foodservice market research, Crest. Visits to quick service restaurants, which represent 79 percent of total industry traffic, were up 1 percent, while full service restaurant traffic, representing 21 percent of total visits, declined.

Restaurant count tallies in the top five largest metropolitan areas of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, and Houston were a mix of up and down. The New York–Newark–Jersey City area realized the steepest decline with a 6 percent decrease in units, dropping from 48,239 restaurants to 46,793. Restaurants in Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro declined by 3 percent, decreasing units from 19,577 to 19,322. Los Angeles–Long Beach–Anaheim increased restaurants by 2 percent, from 28,928 in fall 2014 to 29,208 in fall 2015. Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington restaurant counts went up by 3 percent, from 13,542 to 13,763. Restaurant units in Houston-The Woodlands–Sugar Land also increased by 3 percent from 12,149 to 12,339. 

“There is still a cautious approach to expansion overall as the restaurant sector continues to recover, but chains are slowly adding on units and the fast casual quick service category continues to grow,” says Greg Starzynski, director of product management, NPD Foodservice. “Independent restaurants are historically less stable, not having the same resources as chains to get through more difficult times.”              

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