Tourism-related Sales Fell Short for Most U.S. Restaurants This Summer

Restaurant spending by travelers and visitors remained dampened this summer, and the fall season is looking even more challenging.

The last day of summer is a good opportunity to look back on tourism-related spending in restaurants. For restaurants that rely on travelers and visitors for their business, the pandemic continued to pose significant challenges during the 2021 summer season.

In a typical year before the pandemic, an average of 41% of sales in the fine dining segment came from travelers and visitors to the area, according to National Restaurant Association research. For some fine dining restaurants, it is a much larger proportion: 1 in 4 fine dining operators say travelers and visitors accounted for at least 60% of their sales pre-COVID.

In the family dining, casual dining and coffee-and-snack segments, approximately one-third of sales came from travelers and visitors in a typical year before COVID-19. Travelers and visitors accounted for roughly 1 in 4 dollars spent in the quickservice and fast casual segments pre-COVID.

For most restaurants, the 2021 summer travel season fell short of pre-pandemic levels. In the tourism-dependent fine dining segment, 62% of operators said their sales from travelers and visitors during the June – August 2021 period were down from pre-COVID levels. Only 13% reported sales that surpassed comparable pre-pandemic levels.

The 2021 summer results were similar in the family dining, casual dining, quickservice and fast casual segments: roughly 6 in 10 operators said their tourism-related sales were lower than pre-pandemic levels. Only 1 in 10 operators reported higher sales during the summer of 2021.

Looking ahead, restaurant operators are decidedly pessimistic about an improvement in their tourism-related business this fall. More than 7 in 10 operators in the fine dining, casual dining, family dining and fast casual segments expect their sales from travelers and visitors during the September – December 2021 period will be lower than pre-pandemic comps. Only 1 in 20 anticipate higher sales this fall.

A solid majority of operators in the quickservice and coffee-and-snack segments also think their sales from travelers and visitors will remain dampened this fall.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association’s chief economist Bruce Grindy.