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Restaurant traffic thins in the US, but customers are spending more

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Stephan Savoia/AP/File

(Read caption) Nicholas Barros, a waiter and cook at Olneyville New York System of Providence works the grill as a customer walks up to the door in Providence, R.I. The US foodservice industry served fewer customers in the last quarter of 2013, but they spent more money, according to a survey from the NPD group.

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The U.S. foodservice industry saw a 1% decline in customer traffic in 2013’s Q4 coupled with a 1.8% increase in spending (though much of that likely is from menu price hikes). Increasing both traffic and check proved to be difficult at the end of last year, according to new data from The NPD Group.

In Canada, customer traffic was down 2% while average check was up just 0.6%. The United Kingdom fared better with a 2% increase in traffic and essentially flat check.

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The surprising marketplaces were Australia and Russia. Australia enjoyed a 1% traffic increase coupled with a 4% spending increase. An improved economy and its move into summer during Q4 helped sales. Russia experienced the largest gain in traffic—7%—and a 7.9% boost in spending.

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“In spite of an economic slowdown and low consumer confidence, foodservice traffic in Russia showed a decent 7 percent growth in the last quarter of 2013,” Maria Bertoch, director-NPD Russia Foodservice, said in announcing the results. “The key reason for this dynamic growth is that the Russian foodservice market is still very young and far from saturated.”