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With U.S. restaurant visits and consumer spending increasing after a recessionary slump, the restaurant industry posted a 0.5 percent gain in restaurant counts in Spring 2012, according to a recent restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group. Total restaurant units reached 592,960, an increase of 2,872 units and the first positive change since 2009.

The numbers were highlighted in NPD’s Spring 2012 ReCount, a census of commercial restaurant locations in the United States compiled in the spring and fall each year. The census reports that the number of independent restaurants, which have been on the decline since 2009 posted a slight increase of 984 locations, bringing the total of independent restaurants to 320,193. Chain restaurant units were up by 1,888 units to 272,367.

The Spring 2012 ReCount includes restaurants open as of March 31, 2012, and shows that most of the increase in units were in quick-serve restaurants, which grew by 2,275 locations to a total of 315,401 over a year ago. Full-service restaurant units, which include casual dining, mid-scale, and fine dining restaurants, posted a 0.2 percent increase from the Spring 2011 ReCount.

Visits to U.S. restaurants improved by 1 percent over a year ago for year ending May 2012, and consumer spending increased by 2 percent, according to NPD’s CREST, which tracks the foodservice industry based on consumer reporting of more than 400,000 visits to foodservice outlets a year.

“With improvement in restaurant visits and spending, restaurant operators, especially in the quick-service segment, are more willing to invest in new locations,” said Greg Starzynski, director- product management, NPD Foodservice.  “However, I expect them to take a more cautious approach to expansion than we saw earlier in the past decade. This is particularly true of the full-service segment since expansion costs are significantly higher and traffic and spending gains have not been as strong in this segment.”

Read more about restaurant trends and statistics.

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