Consumer demand for supermarket-style deals while dining out is delaying a recovery in the UK restaurant trade, analysts have warned.

Despite some gains in recent months by fast food outlets and pub chains, higher-end restaurants are continuing to struggle, according to figures from market researcher NPD Group.

Diner numbers at “traditional full service restaurants” were down by 3% year on year, while they fell by almost 5% in the past quarter.

An 8% surge in visitor numbers to fast food restaurants helped spark some cause for cheer, while branded pub operators also showed some uplift, although not independents.

However, the trend of trading down while eating out represented further challenges, said Guy Fielding, director of foodservice at NPD.

“Traffic is still the key problem for the industry as consumers continue to trade down and out of the market,” said Fielding. “At the moment diners are seeking value. It is almost as if they expect the same deals in restaurants as they might get in supermarkets.

“Consumers are still cautious about returning to the top end of the commercial restaurant market. Only when they become more confident about the economic recovery will traffic begin to return to the levels of three or four years ago.”

Read more
Discount habit risks killing off dining trade (23 October 2010)
Hot Topic: The scratch cooking revolution came and went (26 June 2010)