If you noticed that your local restaurants are looking fuller these days, you’re not alone. After the pandemic plummeted restaurant activity and forced many mom-and-pop eateries to close, a report from The NPD Group shows that independent restaurants are experiencing quite the upswing.

Independent restaurant locations, or restaurants that aren’t associated with a corporate chain (and only have one to two locations in total), represent more than half of the entire restaurant industry. Yet these locally-owned restaurants were less resilient to the stark drop in consumer spending than their chain peers when COVID-19 forced the world into lockdown. Eight percent of independent restaurants, approximately 28,399 locations, permanently shut their doors in 2020. But the sector had inched up 1 percent slightly by the end of the following year when 2,893 units had opened.

Visits to local restaurants, both for in-person dining and online orders, increased by 12 percent during the 12-month span ending in March of 2022. Independent restaurant visits are now only 7 percent beneath pre-pandemic levels, specifically the 12 months that ended in March of 2019. Independent restaurant owners have also increased their orders of food and suppliers from wholesalers by 27 percent in the same one-year period, which ended last March. Those wholesale orders have now eclipsed the March 2018-2019 levels.

Independent restaurants are beginning to bounce back despite record inflation, a pronounced labor shortage, and climbing fuel prices. This revival is also good news for retail real estate as well. Restaurants have long been considered a safer option for a retail anchor as they drive foot traffic, but pandemic lockdowns that forced restaurants to close or only allow take-out orders put that theory to the test. This upswing shows that restaurants are still a dependable means to drive foot traffic into retail centers.

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