According to new research from The NPD Group, adult-only restaurant visits increased by 1 percent in 2012, the first time in four years this category grew.

Total restaurant traffic also rose 1 percent last year. Restaurant visits with children remained flat for the second year in a row. This follows three years of Recession-related visit declines, however.

Parties with kids a key opportunity for operators

The lack of growth in the number of visits by parties with kids is among the contributors to the sluggishness in restaurant-industry traffic, but it's also an opportunity for restaurant operators to increase share, according to a recently released NPD foodservice report, Planning for Growth in the New Normal Marketplace. Parties with kids contributed $84 billion and 15 billion visits to the industry in 2012, according to NPD's CREST, a daily tracking system that captures more than 400,000 consumer restaurant visits a year. In the hamburger category alone, parties with kids account for $22 billion and 5 billion visits.

"Our forecast is for sluggish restaurant demand over the next decade, which means operators will battle for market share. Getting families with their children back into restaurants is certainly one of the ways in which they can grow revenue and increase share," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "We continually hear from families with kids that it's too expensive to eat out. Restaurant operators must understand their financial situation and reflect it in pricing of kids' menu items and kids' meals."

Read more about restaurant trends.

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