The total number of U.S. restaurants dropped last fall by 2 percent, and the ratio of eateries to people is at the lowest point since the recession, research and consulting firm The NPD Group said Tuesday.
The makeup of the remaining eateries is changing at a rapid pace too, as the number of independent restaurants is falling while the number of chain restaurants is climbing.
NPD, which measured commercial restaurants open as of Sept. 30, 2016, counted a total of 620,807 restaurants. Independent restaurants fell by 4 percent compared with fall 2015, while the number of chain restaurants rose by 1 percent compared with a year earlier.
Independent restaurants are highly concentrated in sit-down dining, which has seen a slowdown in visits as more Americans choose to grab food on the go. The so-called fast-casual segment, which includes chains like Chipotle and Panera, is still growing rapidly. Restaurants in that segment rose by 7 percent, NPD said.
The number of restaurant closures is expected to continue in response to lower demand, said Greg Starzynski, NPD’s director of product management for the group’s food service segment. Americans have been eating out less for some time now, as economic worries like student loan debt and rising rents keep wallets tight, while meal kits and grocery store hot bars give consumers an alternative to eating out.