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.