Restaurant operators produced mixed results for much of the past year, with flat traffic but slightly positive average checks, but both of those metrics are expected to improve in 2014, according to a new report from The NPD Group.

The Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm found that overall foodservice traffic was flat for the 12 months ended in September 2013, compared with a year earlier, while average spending rose 2 percent during that period. For 2014, NPD Group is forecasting a 1-percent increase in overall restaurant traffic and a 3-percent gain in average spending.

“Although consumers are expected to be cautious about their spending in the coming years, our forecast for traffic and dollar growth for 2014 shows improved performance compared to 2013,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst, said in a statement. “Despite overall industry demand holding steady, there will always be winners — or those who can win the battle for market share.”

NPD Group’s data showed that fast-casual and quick-service restaurants, particularly the kind that are strong at breakfast and snack times, have had more success than other concepts in 2013 and should have continued success in 2014.

Visits to quick-service restaurants rose 1 percent for the 12 months ended in September, led by an increase in traffic for the category comprising gourmet-coffee, doughnut and bagel chains. NPD Group’s quick-service classification also encompasses fast-casual brands, and those restaurants collectively reported an 8-percent increase in traffic for the 12 months ended in September.

“An area offsetting industry growth in 2013 is the ongoing struggle of full-service restaurants,” NPD Group wrote in a press release. “Casual dining, midscale and family dining, despite aggressive dealing, haven’t realized annual visit gains in several years.”

NPD Group highlighted several other parts of the industry traffic picture for 2013, including the disparity between weekday and weekend guest counts. While overall restaurant visits rose 1 percent on weekends, traffic during the week was flat for the 12-month period. However, one daypart that experienced growth across both weekdays and weekends was breakfast, which had a 2-percent increase in overall visits for the period.

Elsewhere, NPD Group found that Millennials and families with children living in the house were two demographic groups under economic pressure in 2013 that cut back on dining out. Annual per-capita restaurant visits for consumers between ages 25 and 34 fell from 251 in 2008 to 207 in 2013, NPD Group said. Visits to all restaurants by families with young children declined by 1 percent for the 12 months ended in September.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN