Summit County servers stung by lack of visitors with lowest occupancy rates since 2015

People walk down Main Street in Frisco on Sunday to enjoy festivities during the Fourth of July holiday weekend. A study done by Destimetrics, a business intelligence branch of Inntopia that collects data from different vacation destinations, says occupancy in across 17 mountain towns in seven different western states is the lowest it's been since 2015, even though prices have increased from previous summers. This has affected the way servers are tipped during the summer of 2022.
Tripp Fay/Summit Daily News archive

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct Tim Applegate’s title.

Tips have been low for Summit County businesses this summer. 

Tim Applegate, managing partner and partial owner of Sauce on the Blue in Silverthorne, said people aren’t spending as much money at all of his restaurant locations this summer. “Tickets themselves are lower,” he said.

Therefore, tips are lower too. 

People are much more likely to order a pasta dish rather than a main meat course, or will stick to just one bottle of wine instead of splurging for a second one, Applegate added. 

A.J. Brinckerhoff, the owner and head brewer of Angry James Brewing Co. which is also in Silverthorne, said he’s seen more receipts this summer with 15% to 18% tips. Last summer, he said, tips could be anywhere between 20% and 40%. He added that when everything is more expensive, people are inevitably going to spend less. 

Jason Brown, a server that has worked at Pure Kitchen in Frisco for the past year and a half, has been experiencing something similar. Pure Kitchen uses a tip pool, Brown said, which creates an average pay for all servers based on the amount of tips from each night. 

Brown said that based on this system, his income can fluctuate between $20 to $45 a night. However, he added, June and July have been much lower than usual. 

This year, inflation has hit the economy and citizens hard. In June of 2022, the United States’ inflation rate leaped up another .5% from May’s 8.6%, reaching 9.1%, the highest of the year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. July brought the rates back down to 8.5%. 

Brown said sales in June and July have been much lower — so low that the slight increase of business in August that he’s experienced as of late still won’t make up for the rest of the summer. 

Destimetrics, a business intelligence branch of Inntopia that collects data from different vacation destinations, recently released a study of 17 mountain towns throughout the west that shows tourism numbers through July 31 are not only down from 2021, but they’re also below pre-pandemic 2019 numbers. 

“Current summer occupancy as of July 31 is pacing lower than at any time in the last seven years with occupancy down compared to every year back to 2015,” said the study. 

However, even though July occupancy in those mountain towns were down around 11% from 2021, prices have not budged. According to Destimetrics, in comparison to 2019 and 2021, price rates for occupancy actually increased by about 41%.

In addition, even though average daily rates have been up 5% since May, revenue has dropped by 6%. 

Therefore, though occupancy rates are much lower than before the pandemic, the increase in cost has offset the financial impact that would come from low tourism numbers, the study explained.

Applegate believes there is one factor affecting visitors that people aren’t talking about: weather. 

According to past reporting, in July of 2022, the town of Dillon had the most precipitation of the summer, with 1.89 inches of rain.

He said people are much less likely to travel to Summit County on the weekends if the forecast shows rain, and numbers at Sauce on the Blue can be significantly cut whenever rain limits outdoor seating. 

Even though these factors have brought a slight dip in business, Applegate said they expected a summer like this one after 2021 brought an influx of visitors

Brown believes it all has to do with gas prices. According to past reporting, the average cost for a gallon of gas in late June in Summit County was $5.08. In July the average gas price was also $5.08, and so far in August, it has averaged at $4.33.

“Especially driving up a hill from Denver … the last thing you want to do is go slam it on your gas pedal to go somewhere you might not need to go,” Brown said. 

Either way, Applegate believes servers shouldn’t have to struggle the way they are now — because they’re also experiencing inflation. “The servers in Summit are doing such a phenomenal job, and their expenses aren’t going down at all,” he said. “They don’t deserve to go unnoticed.”

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