ASHVILLE – Dining halls fill up all over the city as the summer tourist season begins, which can be a blessing for businesses but a nuisance for guests waiting to enter.
“Historically, Memorial Day weekend kind of kicks off the summer tourist season, so Saturday, Sunday and Monday tend to be more crowded than usual,” said Mary Evans, spokesperson for Pack’s Tavern in downtown Asheville.
Vanessa Salomo, COO of Chestnut and Corner Kitchen, is optimistic about the summer tourist season. Bookings and check-ins are already on the rise at Chestnut in the city center and Corner Kitchen in Biltmore Village, she said.
“To the best of my knowledge from hotel owners I know in the community, occupancy has increased and is higher than it has been in many years,” Salomo said in an email. “We’re lucky to have a solid local fan base and they know to book in advance or call to get a seat.”
Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer, said Cathy Petersen, director of public information at Explore Asheville. Hotel and rental holiday home occupancy rates are indicators of tourism trends, and are expected to spike every year around the holiday weekend.
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Peterson cited a Smith Travel Research report that showed hotel occupancy across the country was at its highest, at 98.1% on the Saturday of the 2019 holiday weekend. In 2021, hotels had 96% occupancy on Saturday.
Overall, the city is “experiencing a dramatic recovery” from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has dealt a devastating blow to the local economy, Peterson said. While some industries have been slower to return to normal pre-pandemic operations and income levels, food and beverage suppliers are among those meeting and often exceeding 2019 benchmarks.
“We have seen people happy to travel and get out again, so we expect a recovery to 2019 levels, if not better,” Evans said.
The number of customers at Pack’s Tavern began to increase after the winter, when the weather began to turn bad, she said. A shortage of staff has been a problem many restaurants have faced amid the pandemic, but Pack’s Tavern has a “solid team” and plans to increase staff during busier times.
“Anyway, we stay very busy on the weekends, so I think we hope that people will come to town expecting that there will be a crowd, there will be a waiting, and they will just try to relax, enjoy and understand that everything is in restaurant business goes above and beyond to make sure everyone has a good experience,” Evans said.
Last year, Luella’s Bar-B-Que reduced its hours of operation to five days after Memorial Day weekend due to staffing issues in South Asheville, co-owner Jeff Miller said. Several items have also been removed from the menu. Now both the northern and southern locations of the restaurants are “pretty…