CHICAGO ? Although global foodservice suffered from weak traffic and consumer spending for most of 2009, some improvement was seen in quick-service restaurants (Q.S.R.) traffic in many countries in the last quarter of the year, according to The NPD Group, a leading market research company.

Commercial foodservice usage NPD’s CREST foodservice market research tracks in Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom and the U.S. ended last year with restaurant traffic down compared to year ending December 2008. Spain, the U.K. and U.S. experienced the steepest traffic declines in 2009. In nearly every country except the U.S. and Germany, eater checks declined as restaurants sought appealing price points and consumers managed their outlay on a case-by- case basis.

“No doubt, 2009 was a very rough year for global foodservice, but we did see signs of improvement in the fourth quarter as the global economy and consumer confidence improved,” said Bob O’Brien, senior vice president of global foodservice at NPD. “We are still some way from a broadly healthy global foodservice industry.”

Q.S.R. traffic increased in Canada, Japan and Italy during the fourth quarter of 2009, states NPD’s CREST foodservice market research. A return to Q.S.R., which historically leads the foodservice industry out of economic downturns, is both a sign of improvement and consumers “trading down” to a less-expensive dining experience, according to Mr. O’Brien. Another area showing positive signs was traffic in the non-commercial segment, such as schools and business cafeterias, in Canada and Germany, indicating a sign of growth in employment and school enrollment.

Consumer confidence in Canada has steadily increased over the past two quarters, up from the historical lows at the beginning of 2009, said Robert Carter, NPD’s country manager for Canadian foodservice. With increasingly positive economic conditions, Canadians are starting to feel as if the worst of the economic crises is behind them, he added.

France was among the countries showing some improvement in its foodservice traffic as a consequence of an improved economy.

In January 2009, NPD began tracking foodservice in China and will have a year-to-year comparison beginning in the first quarter of 2010. According to NPD, the economy in China grew +8.7% in 2009 over 2008 due to government and business investment, although there was a shift to growth in consumer spending in the fourth quarter. China’s improved economic environment resulted in a 3% increase in foodservice traffic in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter of last year.