Despite a first-quarter decrease in traffic, the restaurant industry in the United States recorded a 1.7-percent increase in total consumer spending for the first three months of the year, lagging the growth of many other major markets, The NPD Group found.

The Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm also said the growth in total spending at U.S. restaurants came from an increase in the industry-wide average check to $6.62 per person, offsetting a total first-quarter decline in traffic of about 1 percent.

The researcher said this past winter’s severe weather drove much of the declines in traffic throughout the country in the first quarter, a view shared by industry benchmarking firm Black Box Intelligence, which reported a 2.2-percent decline in first-quarter traffic this year. In The NPD Group’s latest report, Canada also had modestly positive spending growth in its restaurant industry of 0.5 percent, with similar growth in its average check offset by a slightly greater decline in traffic than that for the United States.

Foodservice chains struggled across several markets and recorded flat traffic in the United States and Canada, according to The NPD Group. However, the firm noted, in every market tracked for the study, the number of chain locations had increased over the level for 2007, while the number of independent restaurant locations had decreased from the 2007 level.

The two North American economies fell behind the traffic and spending growth recorded in several other countries in the first quarter, according to the study.

Russia recorded a 6.6-percent increase in total restaurant spending, much of it attributed to traffic growth. The nation’s average check of $7.55 per eater trailed only those for France, Australia and Germany, which were $8.29, $8.12 and $7.98, respectively.

American brands with locations in Russia nervously watched how the market reacted to escalating tensions between the country and its neighbor Ukraine in the first quarter, as did major Russian franchisees like Rosinter Restaurants Holding, which reported low-double-digit decreases in same-store sales during the first part of 2014. However, The NPD Group said, visits to Russian foodservice outlets overall grew 6 percent in the first quarter, “as the newness of this marketplace continues to capture consumers’ attention.”

Great Britain tallied a 2-percent growth in traffic in the first quarter, leading to a 3-percent increase overall in consumer spending for its restaurant industry. Germany’s spending growth for the quarter finished just behind at 2.9 percent, The NPD Group reported, while France’s total spending grew 1.5 percent.

The firm noted that the troubled economies of Spain and Italy contributed to decreases in restaurant spending of 1.9 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively.

“While there is a persistent drumbeat of more positive economic news in most developed markets, it’s hard to declare the industry has turned to a growth path,” Bob O’Brien, The NPD Group’s global senior vice president said, in a statement. “There continued to be a split between the more stable Northern European and the still shaky Southern European markets.”

Germany’s economy in particular benefited in the first quarter from an uptick in income levels and moderate inflation, the firm found.

In Asia, spending growth data were unavailable for Japan, though the restaurant industries for Australia and China showed moderate growth. Australia’s foodservice spending rose 3.6 percent in the quarter, while China’s spending rose 1.2 percent.

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