Visits to U.S. restaurants were stable in the first quarter of 2013 compared to the traffic gains encouraged by mild winter weather in the first quarter last year, reports The NPD Group. Also, restaurant spending and average check size increased by 2 percent in the quarter, according to NPD's foodservice market research.

NPD forecasts that restaurant traffic will be flat and spending will increase by 2.7 percent by year end.

Steady traffic at quick service restaurants (QSR), which represents 78 percent of foodservice industry visits, and 5 percent visit gains at fine dining/upscale hotel restaurants offset the traffic losses at casual dining and midscale/family dining restaurants. Casual dining visits decreased by 1 percent and midscale/family dining visits declined by 2 percent in the quarter compared to same quarter last year, according to NPD's Crest research.

Morning meal/breakfast was the only foodservice daypart that increased visits (up 2 percent) in the quarter. Lunch visits were flat, supper was down 1 percent, and visits during the afternoon snack daypart declined by 2 percent.

"Ongoing consumer economic concerns coupled with the payroll tax hike will continue to hinder restaurant industry growth," said Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst. "It's important for operators and foodservice manufacturers to keep in mind that consumers still made over 61 billion restaurant visits last year, which means that there is still significant demand. Understanding and meeting the wants and needs of restaurant consumers is the best way to build traffic."

Read more about trends and statistics.

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