Restaurants benefit from second tax-free weekend

Morgan Taylor, Taste-O-Texas employee, prepares condiments before opening Friday.

In conjunction with its yearly tax-free holiday weekend, Tennessee offered a second tax-free weekend to support restaurants.

The first tax-free weekend looked like previous years’ holidays and was held July 31-Aug. 2. The second tax-free weekend focused on restaurant sales Friday through Sunday. The Tennessee General Assembly approved the second holiday for this year only.

Parker Bartholomew, The Burgers owner, worried many people were not aware of the second holiday.

“We’re hoping that it will bring in more business, but we just don’t know with this being the first one and not really sure how many people know just what it is,” Bartholomew said. “To be honest with you, if I hadn’t been doing research, I wouldn’t have known that it’s even something that we needed to prepare for. When they said two tax-free weekends this year, I thought it was just two of the normal weekends.”

Mark Polley, Taste-O-Texas owner, heard customers over the weekend say they were not aware of the holiday. The holiday boosted customer traffic for the Loudon restaurant.

“We were actually, especially Friday, were pretty busy overall for the weekend,” Polley said. “We saw about a 20 percent increase in customer sales. ... We did run into a little problem on Friday. We sold out of food before closing time because we were much busier than expected.”

Bartholomew was not sure if he could give all the credit to the holiday for business over the weekend.

“We initially saw a little bit of an increase,” Bartholomew said. “We don’t know if it was because of the tax-free (weekend) or we had a couple nice bands that played. I think people definitely knew about it. So it was about a normal weekend for us.”

Chris Freels, Sons of Smoke owner, took advantage of the holiday by running his food truck and restaurant during the weekend.

“We do the restaurant Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and we have some friends doing a grand opening at a flower shop in Sweetwater, so we’re taking our food truck out there on Saturday,” Freels said. “So I’m probably a glutton for punishment trying to do two at a time, but we figure a lot of people will be out and about since it is tax-free (weekend).”

The second holiday was approved as a way to relieve some tension for Tennessee families and restaurant owners.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused immense economic tension on Tennessee families,” Gov. Bill Lee said in a release. “These sales tax holidays will allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money and support Tennessee businesses.”

Business has been turbulent for restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. After reopening, everything has been unpredictable.

“We’ve seen a noticeable decline probably in the last three weeks, so we’re trying,” Bartholomew said. “We don’t know why — if the economy’s starting to catch up with folks or if people are just getting ready to go back to school or if people are on vacation. So this year has been very, just in general, one week to the next. It’s very unpredictable.”

Sons of Smoke operated out of a food truck until Freels opened a restaurant mid-April.

“We kind of opened at a bad time,” Freels said. “We opened on April 17, right in the middle of the pandemic, and we thought if we’re going to do it, let’s just go ahead and do it and go straight to carry out. That’ll give us a few weeks to prepare us when people get back in. … So that sort of eased us into the process, but we’ve been doing good. We’ve been blessed.”