At the close of 2008, the restaurant industry posted the slowest traffic and dollar growth it has seen since the 2002/2003 recession.

According to a foodservice trends' report from the NPD Group (Consumer Reports on Eating Share Trends), traffic increased 0.2 percent from the previous year through November 2008. Consumer spending in the category grew just 2 percent.

NPD reports that all commercial foodservice gains for the period were the result of promotion-related visits. "Deal" visits increased 6 percent and "non-deal" visits dropped by 1 percent. For the annual period ending in November, 23 percent of all traffic involved some type of consumer-recognized "deal." More than 90 percent of the gains in "deal" visits came from quick-service restaurants, reports NPD.

"I don't believe consumers, no matter the state of the economy, will abandon restaurants entirely, they will just use them differently — more cost-consciously," says Harry Balzer, NPD's vice president and chief industry analyst. "The restaurants that deliver value and make it easy to get food cheaper, in new and compelling ways, will win."