Light growth seen for restaurant traffic

by Keith Nunes
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CHICAGO — An aging population is one factor that will lead visits to U.S. restaurants to grow less than 1% per year during the next decade, according to a new study conducted by the market research firm The NPD Group. The report, “A look into the future of food service,” forecasts that annual visits to restaurants will increase 8% over the next 10 years.

Data provided by The NPD Group show that in 2004 annual visits to restaurants per capita were 205.6. In 2009, the figure had declined to 197.1 annual visits to restaurants per capita. In 2019, The NPD Group is forecasting annual visits per capita to be 191.5.

“The aging effect on the restaurant industry will be slightly negative because of aging baby boomers,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst and author of the study. “A greater share of visits will source to those 50 years and older in 2019, but as consumers age they become less frequent restaurant users. This means the restaurant industry will have heavier dependence on lighter buyers.”

Trend data, which assesses behavioral momentum based on the past nine years and includes such factors as new menu items, promotions, and restaurant openings and closings, has not had a positive effect on the food service segment.

“In addition to being hit hard by the recession, Americans are eating more suppers at home, and fewer women entering the workforce have negatively impacted restaurant industry traffic,” Ms. Riggs said. “The current trend momentum may not appear favorable for the industry moving forward, but it’s the area where the industry has the greatest opportunity to change the direction of the forecast. There isn’t much that can be done about the aging of the population and population growth.”

But Ms. Riggs said growth in the restaurant breakfast and afternoon snack dayparts present opportunities for restaurant operators.

“Forecasts are something to be worked against, but are not cast in stone,” Ms. Riggs said. “They are used to assess potential opportunities and risks for the purpose of long-term planning. The future course can be altered.”
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