CHICAGO – Visits to full service restaurants declined in April, May and June, continuing a four-year trend of visit losses for the segment, according to The NPD Group, a Chicago-based market research company.

"Visits to casual dining restaurants declined by 2 percent in the quarter compared to the same quarter last year and midscale traffic dropped by 3 percent," NPD said. Traffic to non-commercial outlets continued to contract for the quarter with a 2 percent decline, which was driven by losses in foodservice visits to business and industry and to the education sector."

While traffic at mid-scale and casual dining establishments lagged, the quick service segment experienced slight growth in traffic, according to NPD. The segment recorded 1 percent growth compared to the comparable year-ago period. The trend offset losses at full service restaurants, which kept total industry traffic stable in the second calendar quarter, according to NPD’s foodservice market research.

"Visits were up at all the QSR main meals while midscale restaurants absorbed traffic losses throughout the day," NPD said.

Foodservice checks climbed an average of 2 percent in the second quarter despite slow growth in traffic. The check increase was the strongest rate of increase in more than two years, NPD said, although it lagged behind inflation for food away from home.

Consumers also spent more in the second quarter, although price and affordability are impacting diners' decisions about where to eat, NPD said. The average check at a mid-scale restaurant (9.66) is nearly twice that of a QSR ($5.18). A check at a casual dining restaurant is more than twice that of a QSR at $13.31.

“In our forecast for the balance of 2012 and 2013, the foodservice industry’s growth is likely to depend on check increases with traffic remaining relatively flat,” said Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst. “An improvement in the economy, especially reducing unemployment, would certainly help the industry improve.”