CHICAGO — Restaurant traffic was flat during the first three calendar quarters of 2011 as the result of continuing high unemployment and low consumer confidence, according to The NPD Group.

“Consumers held tight to their food service dollars this year, even the deals that helped drive traffic over the past few years weren’t as effective this year,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant analyst. “However, it is evident that the new product offerings, innovation and marketing support most evident in the fast casual segment, fast-food hamburger, coffee/donut/bagel categories, and convenience store food service were successful in giving consumers a reason to visit more.”

Restaurant traffic was up 0.2% for the quarter ending March and down 0.4% for the second and third calendar quarters. Quick-service restaurants helped contribute to slight gains in the first quarter and flat visits in the second and third quarters. While consumer traffic was light, consumer spending increased modestly due to check growth.

NPD predicted the fourth quarter of 2011 also will be flat for traffic, and 2012 will begin flat but end with traffic up 1%.

“Even with traffic stagnant for most of the year, there were still 61 billion visits made to U.S. restaurants for the year ending September,” Ms. Riggs said. “Next year the outlook is brighter. The fact is the industry is and will remain an important contributor to the U.S. economy.”