There's a grim forecast on U.S. restaurant traffic out from NPD Group.
Analyst Bonnie Riggs predicts growth will be limited to less than 0.5% a year out to 2022.
Though the analyst cites some pockets of strength such as the breakfast daypart, the fast-casual segment, and higher-end restaurant demand - she thinks overall restaurant revenue will be pressured by soft demand from the middle class.
Millennials are a particular concern with their visits to restaurant outlets in steady decline over the last few years.
Casual dining chains lost close to 7.1M visitors between 2009 and 2013 as fast-casual superstars such as Panera Bread, Chipotle, Noodles, and Pei Wei stole traffic.
The response from the sector has been to push heavily on the promotional lever in a margin-biting gambit. The latest is a $10 all-you-can-eat appetizer price deal from the struggling TGI Friday's chain.
Restaurant Finance Monitor thinks the strategy is ill-fated, noting Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD +1.9%) and Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (RRGB +0.5%) have done well by pushing the distinct experience of a visit to their restaurants - instead of hyping endless discounts.
The fast casual segment of the restaurant industry continues to create turmoil for the casual dining portion as improved quality and nimble service proves hard for consumers to ignore.
A smashing 13% gain in comp sales by Chipotle (CMG -4.2%) in Q1 demonstrates the ability of the fast-casual superstars (NDLS, PNRA) to continue to carve out market share even as the retail sector shows slow growth.
Restaurants analyst think the issue might run deeper than just a consumer unimpressed by an oversupply of undifferentiated dine-in brands. Regional chains and independent concepts have a significant culinary innovation advantage that could prove difficult for the larger casual dining chains to overcome.