CHICAGO — During the last five years, the proportion of the commercial foodservice industry’s traffic from visits made by older consumers has increased steadily while visits from Millennials have declined, according to “Boomers and Beyond – Targeting for Success,” a recently released foodservice market survey from The NPD Group.

Baby Boomers and their seniors (Mature Traditionalists) are dining more at every segment of the restaurant industry than prior to the recession. What makes this particularly interesting is in the past, older consumers were less-frequent restaurant visitors compared to younger diners. As a result, older diners received less marketing attention while efforts were made to reach the heaviest buyers. What’s more, NPD relays the visit rate for older restaurant consumers is now the same as it is for those younger. Boomers and older diners have increased their share of restaurant traffic by 6 percent since 2008. Likewise, Millennials have decreased their share of traffic by 6 percent.

Since the most-recent recession, US restaurant traffic has increased slightly (traffic was up 1 percent for year ending September 2012), according to NPD’s CREST foodservice market research, although levels remain below those in 2008. Morning meal visits are back on par to pre-recession levels (up 2 percent for year ending September 2012) – tracing to increased visits by Older Boomers and Mature Traditionalists.

Older consumers are also providing support for the recovery of lost supper visits. Older Boomers are now heavier users (most frequent) of restaurant morning meals and supper than any other age group.

Much of restaurant marketing dollars are aimed at Millennials, but market-share capture remains the growth path for restaurant operators, just as it has been for the past five years, said Bonnie Riggs, NPD restaurant industry analyst. “Gaining market share among population segments increasing in both number and their use of restaurants, like Boomers, eases the struggle,” she added. “Operators just need to keep in mind that reaching the older customers requires recognizing what it is they want from their restaurant experiences.”