A new analysis shows so-called "casual dining" has stabilized in the restaurant industry after several recent years of declines.  

A recent study shows that casula dining has stabilized in the Garden State. (Hill Street Studios, ThinkStock)

The NPD Group, a global information company, says casual dining, although flat in the past 12 months, has at least stabilized compared to recent times. The group crunched industry figures for the past year ending, with February of 2015.

There was no big surge, the study shows. According to the analysis, most of the casual dining gains are showing up in weekday lunch business, with dinner traffic down 1 percent in the past year.  But the advances showed up for the second year in a row. NPD termed it more of a, "stabilization" than an improvement. They say improving employment and other economic conditions, such as consumer confidence, has helped.

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association says casual dining establishments are adapting to the changing lifestyles of their customers.

"They really are doing a good job of adapting their menu, looking for where market trends are," Halvorsen said.

She said studies are showing that more people are choosing to dine out for their meals. Halvorsen said this could be because a lot of our fast food or quick service companies are adapting their menu to address all different kinds of culinary concerns or dietary concerns that customers may have.

According to Halvorsen, casual dining is offering, "healthier options, gluten-free. So there's more options now when you are on the run and everybody's life is so busy, to go to a quick service or a fast food establishment, and really be able to have a variety of options that, in the past, might not have been available."

What exactly is the "casual dining" segment of New Jersey's restaurant industry?  Everything from McDonald's to Wendy's to TGI Friday's and Dunkin' Donuts, Halvorsen said.

"New Jersey does have a lot of chain establishments, however, predominantly we are independent," she said.

Halvorsen said the weekday traffic increase is likely because of the fact that everyone's life is so busy.

"Whether you are going to practices with the kids or work or whatever your day to day life brings, it is now so much more convenient, and better options at all of these different kinds of restaurants, and quite often it might even be less expensive just to go into a restaurant or a drive-thru or whatever and find what you need and get out," she said. "The more they adapt themselves to meet the market demand, the more successful they will be."