The number of restaurants has declined in the past year with independents being hit the hardest, an NPD census released this week found; but restaurant visits held stable, while dollars spent increased. U.S. restaurant units declined by 2 percent, representing a loss of 9,450 restaurants, based on a recent restaurant census by The NPD Group.

NPD’s  most recent ReCount® census, which is compiled in the spring and fall each year, found most of the total unit declines were independent restaurants, 8,650 of which closed in the recent census period.  Chain restaurant unit counts remained relatively stable in the recent census.

“The decline in independent units is the steepest we’ve seen since NPD began conducting the Spring ReCount® census in 2001,” said Greg Starzynski, NPD director, product development-foodservice.  “A volatile economy, more frugal consumers, and a lack of financial backing have made it a difficult business environment for independent restaurants.”

The Spring ReCount®, collected from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011, showed that the number of quick service restaurants declined by 1 percent or 3,485 units.  Full service restaurants, which include casual dining, mid-scale, and fine dining restaurants, decreased by 5,965 units, a decline of 2 percent from the Spring 2010 Recount®.

On the other hand, according to The NPD Group’s CREST®, which tracks consumer usage of commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets, the declines the restaurant industry has been experiencing over the last several years are improving.   For the year ending in May 2011, visits to U.S. restaurants held stable compared to the same time a year ago when visits were down 3 percent.  Consumer spending at restaurants improved by 2 percent for the year ending May 2011 compared to the same time a year ago when dollars were down by 1 percent.