Casual dining has continued to grow its share of the eating out market, as full-service dining continues to decline.
That's the latest finding from market research firm NPD Group, which found that casual dining has increased annual traffic by 11.6% compared with five years ago.
NPD said the rise equated to 47 million more visits to casual dining restaurants now than in 2009. Meanwhile, the overall market in Britain for eating out of home has lost 4.8% of its traffic in the same five year period.
The success of casual dining compares with quick-service restaurants serving fast food (burgers, chicken, fish and chips, sandwiches, and including coffee shops and bakery outlets), which recorded only 4.2% traffic growth over the same five year period.
But casual dining is mainly taking business from full service restaurants, which have seen traffic decline by 11.4% since year end March 2009.
NPD said the appeal of casual dining was not just related to price - an average bill per visit in a casual dining restaurant stands at £11.90 for a dinner, only slightly more affordable than the full service channel where bills per visit work out at £15.17.
Instead, it said consumers appeared to like the combination of the ambiance and quality of food of a full service restaurant and the speed and delivery of a fast-food/quick service restaurant.
Britons also see casual dining as a good family option when eating out. At dinner time, 36% of all the meal occasions in casual dining restaurants are due to family visits, whereas they only account for 25% of the meal occasions in restaurants generally.
"The new casual dining restaurants are proving popular with people who want good food in a pleasant environment but who are also keeping an eye on what they spend. In difficult economic times, consumers need to save money. That helps to explain why full service restaurants have suffered. But casual dining is successful because it offers a good experience when eating out and a good option for when people want a 'treat' for themselves or their kids. The food is also priced at the level that makes it easy for younger people to dine out."
The casual dining sector remains small, accounting for only 4% in traffic terms of Britain's total foodservice market that generates 11 billion visits annually. But The NPD Group said further growth was likely. Casual dining visits in Britain grew 1.5% in the year ending March 2014 while fast food restaurants grew 0.6%.
Lavenant added: "The success of casual dining in Britain is the beginning of a new way of eating out; this is definitely not a blip. At The NPD Group we believe that casual dining restaurants will continue to take business from full service restaurants."
NPD Group includes the following restaurants in its casual dining category:
Ask Pizza & Pasta; Azzurro; Bella Italia; Café Rouge; Café Uno; Chiquito; Frankie And Bennys; Garfunkels; Harry Ramsdens; La Tasca; Little Chef; Nandos; Old Orleans; Pizza Express; Pizza Hut; Road Chef; TGI Fridays; Wagamama; Gourmet Burger Kitchen; Strada; Yo! Sushi; Zizzi; Camden Food Co; Carluccio's; Fine Burger Co; Giraffe; Le Pain Quotidien; Prezzo; Roosters Piri Piri; Byron.