The total number of U.S. restaurants continues to decline because of continuing losses of independent locations. But independent burger-menu quick-service shops are accounting for very little of that decline.
The Spring 2016 census from The NPD Group finds a 1% drop in the U.S. restaurant count to 624,301, compared with the spring 2015 census. Chain restaurants, which account for 47% of the total, saw a gain small enough to be counted as “flat.” The overall decline is the result of a 3% decrease in the number of independent restaurants, which now stands at 331,469 locations.
For QSR burger restaurants, the overall count was essentially flat (51,694) as was the number of chain locations (45,666). The census found 6,028 independent burger QSR locations, a 1.2% decline. But that’s good news for the burger segment because the Fall 2015 census had found a dramatic 4.1% drop in independent burger restaurants.
The number of burger chain QSR locations declined by 156, twice the 73 independent burger QSR locations lost. But on a percentage basis, the chain loss was smaller.
The Fall 2015 count showed a 0.6% drop in total U.S. restaurants, so the latest data, showing a 1% drop, represent a sight acceleration of the decline.
QSRs aren’t the problem. NPD says the 2016 decline in independent restaurants was largely in the full-service segment, which includes casual dining, midscale/family dining and fine dining. Independent FSRs were down 3%, while independent QSR units declined by 2% in spring 2016.
Independent-restaurant customer traffic was down 3% in the Spring 2016 census. Major chains saw a 1% gain in traffic; small chain visits were flat, according to NPD’s CREST tracking study. QSR visits (80% of total industry traffic) were up 1%; family-dining and casual-dining restaurant traffic declined by 4% and 3% respectively.
“The decline in U.S. restaurant units overall is a reflection of the industry’s stalled traffic growth,” Greg Starzynski, director of product management of NPD Foodservice, said in a release announcing the results. “Our forecast finds that U.S. foodservice visit growth will be less than 1% in the coming years, which means there will not be significant unit expansion for a while.”
Nomura restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski has alerted clients that McDonald’s is testing a Pesto Mozzarella Melt sandwich (for $4.99 alone) at some Southern California outlets. Other tests he mentions are the continuing rollout of fresh-baked muffins, plus Frozen Coke, Frozen Wild Cherry Fanta and Frozen Blue Raspberry Fanta in parts of Kansas, such as Wichita.
According to chewboom.com, the Pesto Mozzarella Melt features a marinated grilled chicken breast filet between two slices of melted mozzarella cheese, with baby greens and basil, a strong pesto sauce and sliced tomato; all on a soft, toasted artisan roll.
Kalinowski also notes Wendy’s test of the Truffle Bacon Cheeseburger mentioned here last week but reported fist by GrubGrade. That sandwich is accompanied by Bacon Truffle Fries in test markets, which include parts of Massachusetts and Tennessee.
He also says “it looks possible that Wendy’s may launch a new version of a Taco Salad nationwide in the U.S. in coming weeks.”
Shacktoberfest returns to Shake Shake on September 23 (though October 2) and last year’s $7.59 Brat Burger (topped with a griddled Usinger’s Cheddar-stuffed bratwurst, crispy ShackMeister Ale-marinated shallots and ShackSauce) returns with it. A new menu offering thiss year will be a $2.99 Bavarian-Style Soft Pretzel (add Shack cheese sauce for $1).