CHICAGO – Visits to U.S. restaurants slipped by 0.4% during the year’s second quarter, or the months of April, May and June, when compared to the same period a year ago, according to food service market research from The NPD Group. Consumers spent 1.5% more at restaurants over that time period this year, with the increase traced solely to higher checks.

“The consumer demand in the prior three quarters wasn’t strong enough to overcome another bump in unemployment, rising gas and commodity prices and low consumer confidence,” said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for The NPD Group. “The confidence they had in the latter part of last year and the beginning of this year was eroded by bad economic news.”

Visits to quick-service restaurants were flat in the second quarter when compared to the same period of the previous year, according to Crest, a unit of The NPD Group that tracks consumer use of commercial and non-commercial food service outlets. Midscale traffic declined by 4%, and casual dining traffic declined by 2%. Fine dining showed some growth in each of the past four quarters.

The NPD Group forecasts the restaurant industry will experience a 1% gain in traffic in 2011.