Memorial Day travel kicks off summer season

More Americans are expected to hit the road this weekend, kicking off a summer that foodservice operators hope will continue to fuel the sales recovery that began for many this spring.

Travel organization AAA projects that 32.1 million people will travel over the long Memorial Day weekend, an increase of 5.4 percent compared with last year when 30.5 million Americans took trips.

And, as millions of travelers seize the opportunity to take a holiday break, restaurateurs across the nation are hoping to have an opportunity to feed them.

“While the economy continues to be rocked by waves of occasional uncertainty, improved economic performance from one year ago should cause more Americans to take vacations this Memorial Day holiday weekend,” said Glen MacDonell, director of AAA Travel Services.

But while more Americans have travel plans this year, the amount they spend on the road is expected to fall, AAA said. The group cited figures from IHS Global Insight estimating median spending of $809 this weekend, down from last year, when Americans reported average spending plans of $1,052.

Of those taking trips this weekend, 28.0 million are traveling in cars, an increase of 5.8 percent over last year. Air travel also is projected to rise, with 2.2 million expected to fly, a 2.4-percent bump over the number of air passengers last year.

Many restaurant companies, including The Cheesecake Factory Inc., P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. and Texas Roadhouse Inc., reported growing traffic and sales trends in the first quarter of this year, particularly toward the end of the period as weather improved. In addition, high-end concepts, such as those owned by Morton’s Restaurant Group and Ruth’s Hospitality Inc., finally felt some relief as business travel and convention business picked up after a long draught during the recession.

Earlier this week, Technomic Inc. raised its outlook for U.S. foodservice sales this year, citing improved spending among consumers with higher incomes and promising signs in other hospitality and entertainment businesses, such as hotels and theaters.

Latest projections from the Chicago-based research firm call for foodservice sales to grow 0.6 percent in 2010 on a nominal basis, which assumes an inflation rate of 1.5 percent. Technomic earlier had predicted foodservice sales to fall 1.6 percent, which would have marked the first time the industry had recorded two consecutive years of sales declines. Last year’s sales fell 3.5 percent.

Contact Molly Gise at [email protected]