U.S. fine dining traffic declined by double-digits during the recession but visits have rebounded since, driven by the segment's evolution. According to The NPD Group, fine dining establishments have tweaked some characteristics to meet consumer demands, such as implementing casual dress codes and environments, adding value and changing up the menu. Increased business travel has also been a boon to the segment, according to a news release.
Visits to fine dining restaurants were up 5 percent in the year ending December 2013 compared to double-digit visit declines during the same period in 2008, reports NPD's Crest foodservice market research.
Fine dining traffic gains last year were ahead of the total foodservice industry, which ended 2013 with visits flat. The fine dining segment, which represents a small share of overall industry traffic but a 14 percent share of foodservice consumer spending, has been ahead of the industry in visits for the past three years.
According to the release, the growth in fine dining traffic isn't because of lower cost but rather higher perceived value. An average eater check at a fine dining restaurant was $28.55 last year compared to $5.32, the average eater check for quick-service restaurants, which represent the bulk (78 percent) of total restaurant traffic. Casual dining restaurants have the next highest average eater check to fine dining at $13.75, but visits to this segment of restaurants have been down for the past several years.
"Fine dining restaurant operators are listening and responding to marketplace needs," said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "There was a time when many of these restaurants were in such high demand that they decided who could visit and what they would pay. The recession hit and there was more supply than demand. Fine dining operators responded by making the changes necessary to appeal to their customer base and their customers have responded."