The growth of tourism on Tybee Island is changing the residents’ taste in food


For residents, a night on the town means a long wait in the tourist-filled summer

Hot and exhausted from a day on the sand, the average Tybee beachgoer wants nothing more than to sit down and enjoy a plate of lowcountry.

But at lunchtime during the peak tourist season, thousands of visitors to the Barrier Island come out with the same thought, resulting in long lines and long waits as the hustle and bustle of people vie for a table at some of Tybee’s most popular restaurants. stains

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The mentality of Tybee locals in peak season

Tybee Island resident Colleen Bozard recalls how she and her husband set out one evening this summer hoping to grab a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants. But when they got to the first dining room, they were greeted by a line of people waiting to get a table. They decided to try their luck elsewhere, but received the same promise: a waiting time of more than an hour.

After two restaurants, they stopped looking and decided to eat in Savannah.

“We love to support our local restaurants and businesses here in Tybee, but in the summer we tend to stay home and not go out to eat much because of the crowds,” Bozard said.

It’s a mentality adopted by many islanders between Memorial Day and Labor Day. They know the rules: if you want to eat, shop or find entertainment, do it early in Taiba or go elsewhere. Leave the peak season for tourists.

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Savannah Morning News

Tybee and tourism: too much of a good thing?

Once known as “Savannah Beach,” the island is now a nautical destination for visitors from across the state, region and country. The Savannah Morning News team investigated the pressures (both good and bad) on the island’s growing popularity.

Tuesday: Overnight, parking and movement

Wednesday: the beach

Today: food, shopping and recreation

“You either stayed in town on Saturday afternoon or you didn’t try to come back in the afternoon. You just don’t come and go,” resident Susan Weston said. “The people of Tybee understand what specific places they’re likely to encounter too many tourists, what time of day, what seasons, and they just adapt.”

In the peak summer season of 2021, Tybee Island welcomed 6 million visitors. Over the years, Tybee has developed into a popular tourist destination, attracting many people to the local waters, restaurants and sandy beaches.

For residents, this is a reality they are used to. Instead, they visit island businesses in the fall and winter.

Tourism has changed Tybee’s restaurant scene

But a few years ago, the landscape of Tybee’s restaurant scene looked different. Weston recalls being able to walk into a restaurant barefoot. Longtime resident Jeanne Gatton remembers her children joining the line of people waiting for food at The Breakfast Club, a no-frills daytime eatery on Butler Avenue that opened in 1976.

Aside from diners waiting for a table at the famous eatery early on weekend mornings, the hustle and bustle at other restaurants was relatively quiet compared to today.

Cockspur Grill is a new restaurant on Tybee Island. Friends John Branigan and Michael “Spec” Hosty decided to open a casual restaurant in the summer of 2020, right in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Hosty said locals are very supportive of the restaurant, they do face the same problem of wait times during the busy summer.

“Sometimes you can wait 45 minutes to an hour. We get people who get up and go,” Hosty said. “Especially in the height of the season, we try to get the food out as quickly as possible, but it’s difficult for us.”

With Tybee Island’s continued development as a beach destination and tourism growing each year — even during the COVID-19 pandemic — year-round vacationers have become an important part of the tight-knit community’s economy. Long lines and crowded restaurants mean more spending by visitors, supporting the local shops and restaurants that line the beaches and streets.

Anthony Debreceny opened The Deck in 2017 in the former Marilyn Monroe establishment at 404 Butler Ave., across from the Island Library. On the busiest summer days, the staff prepares 800 to 1,000 meals, mostly for tourists.

“Locals tend to have their own local watering holes, and we have a few, but not many,” Debreceny shared. “We are betting on tourism. Without tourism, The Deck definitely wouldn’t exist.”

Despite the challenges that can sometimes arise when the urge to grab a bite strikes, residents have adapted to the lifestyle, leaving the peak season for tourists and popping out of their shells as the cooler months approach.

By the way: How fighting trash on Tybee Island led to cleaner sand

Laura Nwogu is a quality of life reporter for the Savannah Morning News. Contact her at [email protected] Twitter: @lauranwogu_

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