Once again, fast casual is proving the overachiever of the restaurant market, this time in unit growth. While the total number of restaurants in the U.S. has decreased slightly in the past year, fast-casual units are up by 5 percent, according to The NPD Group.
The overall decline in the supply of restaurants speaks to continued weakness in demand, according to the researcher. “There is still a cautious approach to expansion overall as the restaurant sector continues to recover,” says Greg Starzynski, director of product management. “But chains are slowly adding on units,” and the fast-casual category “continues to grow.”
Chains overall showed a 1 percent gain in unit counts, compared with a 2 percent decline in independent restaurants. “Independent restaurants are historically less stable, not having the same resources as chains to get through the more difficult times,” says Starzynski.
While the numbers suggest the market is slowly rebounding, the gains are not evenly distributed geographically. Certain major metro areas—Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston—saw an uptick in the number of restaurant units. Others, such as Chicago and New York, were down. The New York-Newark-Jersey City area saw the number of restaurants drop 6 percent.