CHICAGO — According to a restaurant census conducted in fall 2009 by The NPD Group, in a year when the restaurant industry experienced its steepest traffic declines in three decades the total restaurant unit count was relatively flat — dipping slightly by -0.3% or less 1,652 restaurant units nationwide compared to one year ago.

NPD’s latest ReCount census of commercial restaurant locations in the U.S. shows unit counts for total chain restaurants flat and independent unit counts down -1% in fall 2009 compared to fall 2008. Unit counts for total chain quick-service restaurants remained stable while independent quick-service restaurants units declined -2%.

Full-service restaurants (casual dining, midscale, and fine-dining) counts were flat for both total chain and independents. However, mid-sized, and minor chains are showing declines across the board while major chains are growing slightly in both segments.

“NPD’s fall 2009 ReCount reflects a slowdown in chains expanding, and two years of a challenging economy already weeding out the poorest performing restaurants,” said Greg Starzynski, NPD’s director, product development-foodservice. “The economy has been particularly hard on independent restaurants and smaller regional chains that don’t have the same financial resources as the national chains.”

Regarding restaurant unit counts by geography, NPD uncovered that the Central U.S. Census Bureau Region was hardest hit and decreased its total restaurant units by -1.2%; this includes the states of Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. The Northeast census region also saw decreases of -0.6 percent for total restaurant units.