CHICAGO ? Since 2010, US restaurant unit counts have declined by 2 percent, or a loss of 9,450 restaurants, based on the most recent restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group. Most of the lost units were independent restaurants, 8,650 of which closed in the census period, according to NPD’s Spring 2011 ReCount, a census of commercial restaurant locations in the US compiled in the spring and fall each year. Chain restaurant unit counts remained relatively stable.

The number of quick-service restaurants declined by 1 percent, or 3,495 units, indicates NPD’s Spring 2011 ReCount, which was collected from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011. Full-service restaurant units, which includes casual dining, mid-scale and fine dining restaurants, decreased by 5,965 units, a 2 percent decline from the Spring 2010 ReCount.

“The decline in independent units is the steepest we’ve seen since NPD began conducting the Spring ReCount census in 2001,” said Greg Starzynski, director, product development-foodservice. “A volatile economy, more frugal consumers, and a lack of financial backing have made it a difficult business environment for independent restaurants.”

The declines the US restaurant industry has been experiencing over the last several years are improving, according to The NPD Group’s CREST, which continually tracks consumer usage of commercial and non-commercial foodservice outlets. Visits to US restaurants for the year ending May 2011, held stable compared to same time year ago when visits were down 3 percent.

Consumer spending at restaurants improved by 2 percent for year ending May 2011 compared to same time year ago when dollars were down by 1 percent.