CHICAGO – Restaurant visits declined in most countries in the third quarter ended September 2011, according to The NPD Group, a market research company. Low consumer confidence and the fragile global economy were cited as factors influencing foodservice traffic during the quarter.

Spain and Japan had the steepest declines in foodservice traffic according to NPD's Crest, which tracks commercial foodservice usage in select countries. Persistent economic weakness is hounding Spain, and Japan continues to recover from the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Australia also experienced declines in restaurant visits despite a growing economy, NPD said.

Canada, China, France and Italy posted traffic gains, the company said. Italy experienced some gains despite having one of the more challenging economic environments. China posted gains of 19 percent over the same year-ago period.

“Although foodservice traffic in China experienced double-digit growth over last year, the country’s consumer confidence is not as strong as last year,” said Christina Ma, director, China foodservice. “Chinese consumers have become more careful about spending their money on foodservice visiting, and are increasingly selecting inexpensive foodservice channels, such as bakery/coffee shop and retail, and ordering less food and beverage items.”

Foodservice chains are experiencing growth around the world. Also, visits to independent foodservice concepts have stabilized and returned to growth in some countries, according to NPD. Growth in the lunch and dinner dayparts is growing. Lunch traffic appears to be growing in some of the stronger economies while breakfast, which is largely a non-core daypart outside of Italy and China, is growing in most markets, NPD said. Visits during the dinner daypart are also growing in most countries. Promotions remain important in attracting consumers to visit foodservice outlets.

“There still is a mixed bag of health and weakness across the global foodservice industry,” says Bob O’Brien, senior vice president of global foodservice at NPD. “While a few of the countries we track posted traffic gains, the news for the third quarter of this year remains disappointing.”