Independent Restaurants Are Dropping Fast

The number of restaurants in the United States has declined two percent in the last year, while restaurant density has sunk to its lowest level in a decade.

Menu & Cutlery on A Restaurant Table

Menu & Cutlery on A Restaurant Table

Photo by: Darren Baker ©Photograph Darren Baker

Darren Baker, Photograph Darren Baker

When a favorite restaurant closes, often all you are left with is the memory of a beloved dish. Sure, you can flip through a mental scrapbook of these late, lamented meals from now-defunct eateries, savoring the recollected flavors. But you’ll never actually taste them again. So sad.

If lately it seems like you’ve been adding pages to that meal memory book at a record rate, a recent restaurant-industry report provides evidence that may in fact be the case.

The number of restaurants in the United States has declined two percent in the last year, while restaurant density (number of restaurants relative to population) has sunk to its lowest level in a decade, according to the market research firm The NPD Group.

Independent restaurants appear to have been the hardest hit, showing a four percent decrease in number. The density of independent restaurants has also declined over the past decade — from 1,132 restaurants per million people in the fall of 2007 to 1,002 restaurants for every million people today. Visits to independent restaurants declined by two percent in the year ending December 2016 as well.

Restaurant chains, meanwhile, fared better, with the total number of chain restaurants actually increasing by one percent. The density of chain restaurants also grew — from 860 restaurant units per million people in fall 2007 to 922 restaurant units for every million people in fall 2016. Visits to chain restaurants rose slightly, by one percent, in the year ending December 2016.

Greg Starzynski, the director of product management for NPD Foodservice, called the overall decline “the most significant drop” in the total number of restaurants in the United States since the Great Recession.

“If consumers continue to reduce their restaurant visits,” Starzynski said in a release, “we expect the number and density of restaurant units will continue to decline in response to the lower demand.”

Get those meal memory books ready, folks.

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