Customers are running up healthy restaurant and bar tabs at Rhode Island establishments this year, with state residents better off for it.
With one month still to be tabulated, the Ocean State is poised to finish fiscal 2014 with its highest meal and beverage tax collections since the eve of the financial crisis in 2007.
Through the end of May, the second-to-last month of the fiscal year and most recent available, the state’s local 1 percent meal and beverage tax had netted $20.14 million so far this year, a 5.2 percent increase from the same period last fiscal year.
Perhaps that’s only to be expected.
As much as any industry segment, hospitality spending tends to track consumer confidence and the health of the broader economy.
Still, industry leaders are pointing to the benefits of some favorable circumstances and coordinated efforts leading Rhode Island hospitality businesses ahead.
“There’s a lot of pent-up demand,” said Dale J. Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association. “And there’s been a lot of really aggressive marketing by the [Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau] and all the local tourism councils. There’s a lot of promotion happening.”
Through the recession, hospitality was one of the few industries that didn’t go through a major decline, and it has grown steadily, without double dips, unlike many other sectors.
In the heady days of fiscal 2007, meals-tax collections soared 6.9 percent year over year and then contracted a modest 0.4 percent the next year while the rest of the economy was collapsing.
Even in fiscal 2010, meal and beverage tax collections increased 0.9 percent and the next year collections increased 4.9 percent, the second strongest increase before the current pace.
And tax collections are only one indicator of the long-term trend in hospitality industry growth.
According to seasonally adjusted employment figures from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training, the 55,500 leisure and hospitality jobs in the state during February were a record high. June had 55,000 leisure and hospitality jobs.
At Easy Entertaining Inc. in Providence, which launched as a catering company in 2006 and added a café in the Rising Sun Mills in the fall of 2012, owner and chef Kaitlyn Roberts said conditions aren’t back to where they were six years ago, but are improving.