The number of restaurants in the US grew in the first quarter of the year, driven by the quick service sector, while the number of visits and the level of consumer spending also increased on the previous year, according to new figures from foodservice analysts NPD Group. The research showed 0.5% gain in restaurant counts in Spring 2012, with total restaurant units reaching 592,960, an increase of 2,872 units and the first positive change since 2009. The report found that the number of independent restaurants, which have been on the decline since 2009 posted a slight increase of 984 locations, bringing the total of independent restaurants to 320,193. Chain restaurant units were up by 1,888 units to 272,367. It found that most of the increase in units were in quick-serve restaurants, which grew by 2,275 locations to a total of 315,401 over a year ago. Full-service restaurant units, which include casual dining, mid-scale, and fine dining restaurants, posted a 0.2% increase in numbers on the previous year. Visits to restaurants improved by 1% over a year ago for 12 months ending May 2012, while consumer spending increased by 2%. Greg Starzynski, director of product management at NPD, said: “With improvement in restaurant visits and spending, restaurant operators, especially in the quick-service segment, are more willing to invest in new locations. However, I expect them to take a more cautious approach to expansion than we saw earlier in the past decade. This is particularly true of the full-service segment since expansion costs are significantly higher and traffic and spending gains have not been as strong in this segment.”