“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” had a different meaning before the restaurant industry’s slow recovery from the recession. At the moment it means that breakfast is the only daypart showing any customer growth. The NPD Group says morning traffic was +2% during the first quarter of 2013. Lunch was flat; dinner traffic was down by 1%. And the “evening snack” daypart that was supposed to be a great traffic-building opportunity fared the worst: -2% for the quarter.
The good news sounds like a bad joke: fewer people are eating out but those who are dining out are spending more. Average check was up 2% in Q1 2013. Much if not all of that increase was from higher menu prices. For full-year 2013, NPD forecasts flat customer traffic and a 2.7% increase in spending (which likely won’t keep up with food-cost inflation).
For Q1, total restaurant traffic was flat thanks to the QSR segment, which managed to not decline. Midscale restaurants (-2%) and casual-dining restaurants (-1%) weren’t so lucky. Fine dining posted a 5% improvement but the upscale segment accounts for only 1% of the total industry traffic (compared with QSRs’ 78%). On its own it can’t significantly impact overall industry trends.
“Ongoing consumer economic concerns coupled with the payroll tax hike will continue to hinder restaurant industry growth,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “It’s important for operators and foodservice manufacturers to keep in mind that consumers still made more than 61 billion restaurant visits last year, which means that there is still significant demand. Understanding and meeting the wants and needs of restaurant consumers is the best way to build traffic.”