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Chains Are Expanding at the Expense of Independent Restaurants

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Blame fast food giants and their dirt-cheap food

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Despite all this talk about "the foodie generation" and millennials who are obsessed with Instagramming their locally sourced kale salads, American diners are increasingly spending their dining dollars at chains. New research shows that while restaurant spending has nearly returned to pre-recession levels, chains are benefitting from it more than independently owned restaurants, according to Buzzfeed News.

recently released report by research firm NPD Group reveals that as of last fall, the number of independent restaurants operating in the U.S. fell by 2 percent compared to a year earlier, meaning about 7,100 restaurants closed. Meanwhile, the number of chains increased by 1 percent, which translates to about 3,200 restaurants opening.

"Chains have been heavily investing in advertising and ‘dealing’ to drive customer traffic these past several years and independents don’t have the resources to compete," NPD spokeswoman Kim McLynn tells Buzzfeed. With companies like Burger King, Wendy's, and McDonald's battling to see who can win budget-minded diners' business with increasingly cheap value deals, independently-owned restaurant simply can't keep up.

Overall, it seems customers are being lured in by the promise of quick, inexpensive meals: Visits to quick-service restaurants went up by 1 percent over the surveyed period, while visits to full-service restaurants declined. And the fast-casual boom is continuing, with 867 new fast-casual restaurants opening during the year-long period (a 5 percent increase).

Of course, a fast, cheap meal doesn't have to mean throwing money at McDonald's or other corporate giants, as further evidenced by the trend of big-name chefs opening fast-casual restaurants. But for truly budget-conscious consumers in need of a cheap fix, it seems the drive-thru window will continue to reign supreme.

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