Foodservice consultants say independent restaurants have lost the largest amount of customer traffic since the recession began five years ago according to a recent study. This is in contrast to how chain operators and branded restaurants have weathered the economic downturn, which appears to be much better based on the research. Fast casual chains, such as Chipolte and Panera, have gobbled up more of the market share among several of the major restaurant companies. QSR (quick service restaurants) giant McDonald’s is bucking the trend with even stronger year over year sales in several of its stores due in part due to their upgrading and green expansion programs. According this study by the NPD Group and as reported in the Los Angeles Times: “Restaurant visits have fallen across the country since the recession, and the bulk of those lost customers – 87% – abandoned independent eateries.” “Independent restaurant operators have neither the money nor resources that the chains have,” says Bonnie Riggs, an analyst with NPD in a statement.” The foodservice consultants firm also said that patrons have gone to larger chain restaurants instead. As to what to expect in 2012, one restaurant consulting firm is predicting several trends including popcorn on menus and smaller bites. In addition, restaurant experts predict: “Several trends that first gained traction in 2011 — including the rise of breakfast foods, beer gardens, brick-and-mortar food truck extensions and nutritional disclosures — will continue to grow next year.” One takeaway is that continued sales and marketing activities are what kept the larger chains stable and growing in many cases, such as the fast casual sector. The other takeaway from those foodservice consultants evaluating menu trends is that portion sizes and smaller plates are a means to attract more customers while making your restaurant more interesting and competitive at the same time.