Severe weather in the first quarter put a chill on U.S. restaurant visits, but delivery orders and beverage-focused brands saw traffic increase, according to research released by The NPD Group Inc. on Wednesday.

While traffic at all U.S. restaurants declined 1 percent in the quarter, spanning January through March, the Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm found that delivery orders increased 4 percent.

“Extreme weather conditions affect consumer behavior in different ways,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst, in a statement. “The opportunity for restaurant operators is to anticipate bad weather, understand how customers react to bad weather, and put a bad weather plan of action into place.”


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For concepts with an emphasis on drinks, the extreme weather of prolonged cold spells in the Northern States and warmth in the South and West appeared to fuel traffic, NPD found.

Hot tea, hot chocolate and “frozen/slushy” coffee saw double-digit increases, according to NPD’s CREST market research daily tracking of consumer restaurant and foodservice use.

In addition, quick-service coffee, doughnut and bagel concepts saw traffic increase 5 percent compared with the winter quarter of 2013, NPD said.

The first-quarter’s harsh weather also affected industry segments that had already been struggling. Visits to midscale family-dining and casual-dining restaurants, both of which have been challenged by long-term traffic declines, continued to slip, NPD said.



Family-dining visits fell 4 percent in the quarter, and casual-dining visits declined 2 percent, the research found.

“Core lunch and supper business declined across all restaurant segments, and … adults ages 25-49 continued cutting back on restaurant visits,” the report said.

Riggs said restaurant operators can minimize the impact of bad weather.

“Creative marketing strategies can be used to alter consumers’ decision to stay at home,” she said. “Consider changing or adding to the mix of menu items to include ‘bad’ weather items.”

In addition, Riggs suggested restaurant operators tap into social media platforms to communicate promotions and incentives, and also take advantage of consumers being indoors watching TV to advertise.  

“The point is, we can’t control the weather, but we can manage its impact on our business,” she said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless