CHICAGO — Parents dining out without kids and a decrease among young adult diners ages 18 to 24 are serving to negatively impact the bottom line for restaurant operators, according to The NPD Group, a market research company.

In 2008, restaurant visits by parties with kids declined by 3%, and restaurant visits by young adults, the most lucrative restaurant market, dropped from 254 per capita in 2007 to 233 in 2008, according to NPD’s CREST, which has tracked consumer purchasing and consumption patterns at commercial restaurants since 1975.

The increasing absence of children in restaurants is a result of cost-cutting measures on the part of adults, since the average size of a restaurant party when kids are present is over twice as large as for adult only parties, driving the meal costs almost $8 higher, according to NPD CREST restaurant market research. Both quick-service and full-service restaurants experienced traffic losses in 2008 with kids under 13 years old. Losses were particularly pronounced at supper, but occurred at other dayparts as well.

Young adults have been scaling back on restaurant visits for the past five years, with the decline from 2007 to 2008 being the steepest. Young adults are among the heaviest users of restaurants, and foodservice operators expend considerable resources to attract this group. In 2008, the 18- to 24 year-old age group accounted for nearly 7 billion restaurant visits and spent $42 billion.

"Considering the cost of adding kids’ meals to a restaurant check, it’s not surprising that adults are deciding to keep the kids at home, and I believe we’ll see more kids in restaurants once the economy improves," says Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. "It’s a different situation with the 18-24 year-olds, their restaurant preferences have been changing over the last few years, and it will be important for restaurant operators to understand these preferences in order to get them back in."

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