Fort Collins-Loveland, Colorado is the US metro area with the most fast casual chain units per resident, according to the latest restaurant census conducted by The NPD Group, a leading global information company. Of the 15,728 fast casual chain units in the US, the Fort Collins-Loveland metro area has only 41 but is number one in terms of unit density at 13.14 fast casual chain locations per 100,000 residents, according to NPD’s Spring 2013 ReCount restaurant census. The US average is only 5.00 fast casual chain units per 100,000 residents.

Many fast casual chains, which are upscale quick service restaurant (QSR) concepts that offer more service, higher quality food, and have a larger average check size than other fast food restaurants, have been the success story of the restaurant industry. Visits to fast casual restaurants continue to grow when total restaurant industry traffic has had little growth. In the year ending May 2013, visits to fast casual restaurants increased by 9% while total industry traffic was flat, according to NPD’s CREST, which tracks daily how consumers use restaurants. NPD’s Spring 2013 ReCount, which is a restaurant census conducted in the spring and fall each year, shows that fast casual chain units increased by 7 percent from last year’s spring census.

Other metro areas with the most fast casual chain restaurants per resident are the Colorado metro areas of Denver-Aurora-Broomfield (density of 12.76) and Boulder (density 12.53). Tallahassee, Florida

(density 11.74); Lexington-Fayette, Kentucky (density 11.72), and Gainesville, Florida (density 11.69) are next in rank order. The largest city to have the most fast casual chain residents per resident is the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-Virginia-Maryland-West Virginia metro area that ranks seventh in population with 5.8 million residents and has 10.23 fast casual chain units per 100,000 residents.

“Many of the fast casual chains have been adding units in an otherwise soft restaurant environment,” says Greg Starzynski, director-product management, NPD Foodservice. “Traditional quick service restaurants have taken notice and are working to compete with the fast casual chains’ offerings, especially in terms of the freshness and quality of food. All of these efforts will benefit both the consumer and industry.”