CHICAGO — Restaurant traffic declined 2.6% in the spring quarter that ended in May, according to The NPD Group. This is the sharpest decline in traffic since 1981.

"The commercial food service industry has been struggling since last fall, and it appears that as unemployment increases the struggle is increasing," said Arnie Schwartz, president of U.S. food service at NPD. "Dealing, value menus and attractive price points seem to be supporting some operators who are holding on. Menu innovations in the fast casual and Q.S.R. segments have also helped to capture occasions."

Traffic was down 2% for quick-service restaurants and fast food, casual dining was down 4%, and midscale was down 6%. Checks were up 2% in the quarter, but this didn’t offset the decline in traffic and resulted in a 1% decline in consumer spending.

Consumers with children especially cut back their visits to all segments of restaurants, and such families have been cutting back on restaurant visits for the last three quarters. In fact, more than half of the decline in the last quarter was the result of fewer supper visits from parties with children. Visits from households without children were stable.

"It is going to take continued innovation, creativity and perseverance to capture share in a market where the pie may not be growing in the near term," Mr. Schwartz said.