• Fast casual only restaurant segment to grow traffic in 2013

Fast casual restaurants continue to be a bright spot for the foodservice industry, which has yet to fully recover from the Great Recession, according to The NPD Group, a global information company. NPD's foodservice market research shows visits to fast casual restaurants up 8 percent in 2013, over the prior year compared to no growth for the total industry and quick-service segment, according to a company press release. Spending at fast casual restaurants increased by 10 percent last year compared to 2 percent growth at total restaurants.

Guest check sizes at fast casual restaurants on average were $7.40 last year, higher than the average quick-service restaurant visit check of $5.30, but still much lower than the average full-service restaurant visit check of $13.66, according to NPD's CREST research, which tracks daily how consumers use restaurants and other foodservice outlets.

Unit expansion was also a major contributor to the fast casual restaurant category's growth. There are now 16,215 fast casual chain units in the U.S., an increase of 6 percent (903), from last year according to NPD's Fall 2013 restaurant census, ReCount.

"Overall, restaurant customers are trading down, foregoing some of their visits to full-service places while increasing the number of visits made to fast casual restaurants," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "Fast casual concepts are capturing market traffic share by meeting consumers' expectations, while midscale and casual dining places continue to lose share."

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