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Fast-Casual Continues to Be Foodservice Industry's Bright Spot

CHICAGO – Fast-casual restaurants remain the bright spot for the foodservice industry, which has not yet fully recovered from the Great Recession, according to new research released by The NPD Group. In fact, fast-casual was the only restaurant segment to see traffic growth in 2013.

New foodservice market research from NPD shows that visits to fast-casual restaurants were up 8 percent in 2013 over the previous year, compared to no visit growth for the quick-service segment, nor the total industry. Spending at fast-casual restaurants increased by 10 percent last year compared to 2-percent growth at total restaurants.

Fast-casual chains, which customers perceive as having enhanced service and higher quality food than traditional quick-service restaurants (QSRs), have a higher average check per person compared to the check size of a traditional QSR visit. Last year, guest check sizes at fast-casual restaurants were $7.40 on average -- higher than the average QSR visit check of $5.30, but still much lower than the average full-service restaurant visit check of $13.66.

Unit expansion has been a major contributor to the fast-casual segment's growth. ReCount, NPD's fall 2013 restaurant census, showed that there are now 16,215 fast-casual chain units in the United States, up 6 percent or 903 units from last year.

"Overall, restaurant customers are trading down, foregoing some of their visits to full-service places while increasing the number of visits made to fast-casual restaurants," said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for Chicago-based NPD. "Fast-casual concepts are capturing market traffic share by meeting consumers' expectations, while midscale and casual dining places continue to lose share."

NPD's CREST information service tracks daily how consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets.

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