Fewer restaurants were in business in the fall than the year before, with independent operators taking the brunt of losses, according to market research firm NPD Group.

Numbers were down 1%, or 5,551 restaurants nationwide, according to NPD’s Fall 2010 ReCount census. NPD counted 579,102 restaurants open Sept. 30. Its findings are published twice a year.

But declines weren’t as sharp as earlier ones. The numbers improved on a 3% loss in November 2009 compared to the year before.

Restaurant chain counts were flat in 2010, while independent operations dropped 2%, according to a news release.

“These past two years have been particularly tough for independents, which don’t have the resources to compete with the chains,” Greg Starzynski, NPD product development director for foodservice, said in the release. “Over the past few years we've lost several thousand independent restaurants.”

Quick-service restaurants fell 1%, or 2,122 units. Full-service restaurants — including casual dining, midscale and fine dining — shed 1% or 3,429 units.