The Washington-based National Restaurant Association has launched its first ever multimillion dollar advertising campaign in a bid to entice Americans out to dinner again, after the sector slowdown that came in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks.

The restaurant sector was struggling even before the attacks and anthrax scares, but with the addition over consumer concerns over safety, sales have sunk even further and 103,000 jobs were lost in September alone. The fine-dining outlets have been hardest hit, as they rely on travel and tourism for 50% of their sales.

In a full-page colour advert, created by Smith & Harroff and appearing in local newspapers this week, the NRA has attempted to convince diners that eating out can be an act of patriotic defiance towards those responsible for creating terror. The tagline reads: “Restaurants are part of who we are as Americans … Join Us. Help America Turn the Tables.” Readers are also told that every dollar spent on eating out generates over US$2m in other industry areas.

Chad McGinnis, vice president of Smith & Harroff, told the Wall Street Journal that the ads attempt to show how large a role restaurants play in American society, as the largest private sector employer and a place for the family to go together. Care was taken however to ensure that the NRA did not seem to be capitalising on the 11 September disasters: “That was an important instruction from the client: that we not wrap ourselves in the flag and be very careful and respectful in approaching it.”

The newspaper ads cost the NRA around US$2m, and they will hit the national press next week. The association has revealed plans to raise more cash to pay for further ads both in print and radio.

The NRA represents 844,000 food-service operators, from fastfood outlets to fine dining restaurants.