The restaurant industry isn't out of the water yet.
It's no secret that restaurants have suffered from declines in same-store sales growth and lackluster foot traffic, but it seems that chains are taking another hit.
Lunch visits across the industry have plummeted 7 percent over the last six months, according to a report by the NPD Group.
Casual dining chains, like Olive Garden, Applebee's or Red Lobster that offer full table service, saw traffic fall 6 percent in the quarter ended June compared to the same quarter last year. Fast casual chains — which offer high-quality food, but not table service such as a Panera Bread, Panda Express or Chipotle Mexican Grill — saw traffic spiral down 9 percent during the same time frame.
In fact, the restaurant industry as a whole would have seen even sharper declines in lunch visits if not for fast food joints, which continue to offer customers reasonably priced value meals and other promotions.
NPD Group said a spike in menu prices at casual dining and fast casual chains is responsible for the steep decline in lunchtime restaurant visits.
"Average lunch eater checks in the quarter ending June 2016, which at some restaurant segments have increased by as much as 5 percent compared to the same quarter year ago, have moved upward beyond consumers' 'sweet spot' price, diminishing customer satisfaction and their intent to visit," the firm wrote in a statement.
On average, customers are paying $8 for lunch — a higher fee than most consumers want to pay, the research firm said.
"Simply said, who can afford to go out lunch on a regular basis when checks have risen for some as much as they have recently?" Bonnie Riggs, NPD Group restaurant industry analyst, said in a statement. "Historically, foodservice lunch has been the occasion where consumers didn't want to invest a lot time, money, or energy into this meal. It's apparent by the drop in lunch traffic that the current value proposition isn't meeting these needs."
In addition, NPD Group noted an increase of consumer spending online and a surge of employees working from home. Both are factors that may be weighing on the number of meal and snack breaks that people take and softening lunchtime traffic.