The total U.S. restaurant count decreased slightly (-0.6%) from a year ago to 629,488 total unit, according to the count of U.S. commercial restaurant locations compiled in the spring and fall each year by The NPD Group’s ReCount tracker. The reason for the anemic overall growth rate is simple: the number of independent restaurant units open as of September 30, 2015, was down 2% from the year-earlier level.
Meanwhile, over the past year, the number of chain restaurant locations increased by 1% to 292,943. With 336,545 location, independent location still outnumber chains, but the gap obviously is steadily closing.
Independent QSR/Burger restaurants show a decline double that of all independent restaurants. For the year ended in September 2015, the number of indie burger joints fell 4.1% to 6,085. That’s a shock because burger bars seemed to be on a solid growth path, growing in number by 2.7% between the Fall 2013 and Fall 2014 counts.
Chain locations of QSR/Burger concepts rose just 0.6% over that 12-month period to 46,029 units. The overall count for QSR/Burger restaurant locations was flat at 52,114 units.
The decline in independents overall came largely from full-service concepts, and most of the full-service unit declines were in the casual- and fine-dining categories, NPD reports. The fast-casual QSR category continues to expand, however, increasing units by 5% to 19,043 total locations in Fall 2015.
Restaurant-count results for the Top 5 Metropolitan Areas were mixed (see below). The New York City area increased by 5%; Dallas and Houston grew by 2% each; and Los Angeles grew by 1%. The number of restaurants in the Chicago market declined by 1% to 19,322.
NPD Group’s CREST finds that U.S. restaurant visits in the year ending December 2015 nearly returned to pre-recession levels by gaining 700 million visits from 2010. Visits to QSRs, which account for 79% of total industry traffic, were up 1%; full-service restaurant traffic, representing 21% of total visits, declined.