5 things to know about Tennessee's upcoming sales tax holiday on groceries, restaurant meals

Tennessee consumers look forward each year to the sales tax holiday on clothes, computers and school supplies. It's timed to back-to-school purchases, but it applies to shoppers of any age at any stage, as long as no single item of apparel or supplies exceeds $100 and the computer costs no more than $1,500.

This year's tax-free weekend runs from 12:01 a.m. Friday to 11:59 p.m. Sunday. But it's not the only tax-free shopper-tunity for 2021. The Tennessee General Assembly also has approved a sales tax holiday on "food, food ingredients and prepared food," which runs for an entire week.

To get the lowdown on this new holiday benefiting grocery stores, restaurants and the people who frequent them - which is to say, all of us - we checked the Tennessee Department of Revenue's website and posed a few questions to Kelly Nolan Cortesi, the department's director of communications. Here are five things to know:

* So when does this start?

Tennessee's tax-free holiday on food, food ingredients and prepared food runs from 12:01 a.m. Friday, July 30, to 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5. During that time, you will pay no sales tax on most grocery purchases and restaurant meals.

* Has this been done before?

Sort of. Restaurants got a three-day tax exemption last year. That holiday was meant to aid restaurants struggling to recover from the economic shutdown and the additional cost of equipment and supplies needed to protect employees and customers from the coronavirus.

According to Cortesi, "this is the first time the state has had a sales tax holiday on food and prepared food."

Consider it a sign to splurge on those rib-eyes and vanilla beans.

* Is every kind of food covered?

Nope. State lawmakers have different ideas about what constitutes food than the average consumer might. So you can still expect to pay sales tax on alcohol, tobacco, dietary supplements, even candy.

"These items are not included in the definitions of food and food ingredients in state law," Cortesi says. "That is the reason why they are not included in the holiday."

Learn more

More information about Tennessee’s sales tax holidays is available:On the web: www.tntaxholiday.comBy phone: 615-253-0600By email: revenue.support@tn.gov

* Will I still have to pay city or county taxes?

Not a one.

"Qualifying items are exempt from both state and local sales tax," Cortesi says. "Consumers should not expect to pay sales tax on these items."

* How can Tennessee afford to do this?

State revenues are faring better than expected, considering the economic setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Bill Lee initially proposed a $100 million, two-week sales tax holiday on restaurants, bars and groceries as part of a broader plan to divvy up hundreds of millions of dollars in extra spending. Lawmakers scaled back those plans to one week at a cost of $50 million.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.