People eating in a restaurant
U.S. restaurant visits in the year ended December 2015 were up 700 million visits from 2010.

CHICAGO ─ The total U.S. restaurant count has decreased 0.6% from a year ago, according to the NPD Group's Fall 2015 ReCount, which counted the U.S. commercial restaurant locations opened before Sept. 30, 2015. While chain restaurants increased by 1% from a year ago, independent restaurant units experienced a 2% decline, according to NPD.

The independent restaurant decline occurred in both the quick-service and full-service segments. The most declines in the full-service segment occurred in the casual- and fine-dining categories, while the sandwich and Mexican-type restaurants experienced the steepest unit decline in the quick-service segment. Independent fast-casual restaurants continue to grow, however, increasing units by 5% between the fall of 2014 and the fall of 2015.

While restaurant counts declined, U.S. restaurant visits in the year ended December 2015 were up 700 million visits from 2010, according to NPD’s food service market research, CREST. Visits to U.S. quick-service restaurants, which represent 79% of total industry traffic, were up 1%, while full-service restaurant traffic, representing 21% of total visits, declined.

Restaurant counts in the country's largest metropolitan areas were a mix of up and down. The New York-Newark-Jersey City area saw the largest decline, dropping 6%. In the Los Angeles area, the number of restaurants increased by 2%, while the number of restaurants in the Chicago area declined by 3%. In Dallas, restaurant counts rose by 3%, and the number of restaurant units in the Houston metro also increased by 3%.

“There is still a cautious approach to expansion overall as the restaurant sector continues to recover, but chains are slowly adding on units and the fast casual quick service category continues to grow,” said Greg Starzynski, director of product management for NPD Foodservice. “Independent restaurants are historically less stable, not having the same resources as chains to get through more difficult times."