Don’t write the obit for independent restaurants just yet. The NPD Group’s latest ReCount census of commercial restaurant locations finds that numbers of both independent and chain restaurants have risen. This is the first time since 2009 that both sectors have increased due to a decline in the number of independent restaurants in recent years.
As of March 31, 2012, the number of independent restaurants stood at 320,194, a net increase of 984 from the Spring 2011 ReCount. Independents had shown a net loss of 1,331 in 2011 and 1,172 in 2010.
The count for chain restaurants stood at 272,367 on March 31, or 46% of the total. The number of chain locations increased by 1,888 in the past year.
NPD reports that 2,275 of the restaurants gained since last year—or 79% of the net gain–are quick-service restaurants. Full-service restaurants (including fast-casual, mid-scale and fine-dining concepts) increased by 0.2% in the past year.
The three largest U.S. cities all saw positive growth in total restaurant locations. In Los Angeles, however, the number of chain locations declined by 83 or 0.5%. The number of independent restaurants in that city increased by 700, or 4%.
In New York City, 73.5% of restaurants are independents, compared with 52.4% in Los Angeles and 54% in Chicago. However, the number of independents in New York City remained essentially flat (up by just 79) while the count of chain locations rose by 216 or 2%.
Chicago, too, saw a greater net gain in the number of chain restaurants (+112) than independents (+67). But that both categories show positive growth is good news for the restaurant business there.
NPD says that overall U.S. restaurant customer visits were up 1% over a year ago for the year ended in May 2012. Spending increased by 2%, according to NPD’s CREST.