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The total U.S. restaurant unit count dropped from 587,335 in Fall 2010 to 580,852 in Fall 2011, mostly due to independent restaurant closings. The data is based on the most recent restaurant census conducted by market research company The NPD Group.

NPD's Fall 2011 ReCount, a census of commercial restaurant locations in the U.S. compiled in the spring and fall each year, reports that the number of independent restaurants declined by 6,863 units during the census period. Chain restaurant unit counts remained relatively stable, increasing by 380 units.

The Fall 2011 ReCount includes restaurants open as of Sept. 30, 2011, and finds that the number of quick-service restaurants declined by 1 percent, or 1,801 units.

Full-service restaurant units, which includes casual dining, mid-scale, and fine dining restaurants, decreased by 4,682 units, a 2 percent decline from the Fall 2010 ReCount.

"Restaurant unit losses were steep during the recession, but we are seeing that total unit losses are softening from past ReCount censuses," said Greg Starzynski, director, product development-foodservice. "Independent restaurants, however, are still struggling."

According to NPD's Crest service, which continually tracks consumer usage of commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets, for the year ending December 2011, visits to U.S. restaurants were flat from same time year-ago.

Consumer spending at restaurants improved by 1 percent for the year ending December 2011 compared to same time year-ago.

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