U.S. Restaurants See Mixed Results in First Quarter

CHICAGO – Poor weather conditions had both positive and negative effects on U.S. restaurants in the first quarter of 2014.

Total restaurant visits declined 1 percent from January through March, while delivery orders increased 4 percent, according to new research from The NPD Group.

Other positive effects of the winter's extreme weather conditions included double-digit increases in hot tea, hot chocolate and frozen/slushy coffee servings. Additionally, quick-service coffee, doughnut and bagel restaurants that serve such drinks saw traffic increase 5 percent compared to winter 2013.

"Extreme weather conditions affect consumer behavior in different ways," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD's restaurant industry analyst. "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."

Segments of the restaurant industry that have been struggling to increase visits for some time were further hampered by the harsh weather. Visits to family-dining (midscale) and casual-dining restaurants dropped by 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively, compared to one year ago.

Meanwhile, core lunch and supper business declined across all restaurant segments, and adults aged 25 to 49 continued to cut back on restaurant visits during the first quarter.

"It's challenging for operators to minimize the impact of bad weather, but creative marketing strategies can be used to alter consumers' decision to stay at home," Riggs added. "Consider changing or adding to the mix of menu items to include 'bad' weather items. Use social media to communicate promotions and meal incentives, and 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."

The NPD Group's Crest foodservice market research tracks daily how consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets.