The U.S. restaurant industry expanded payrolls for the fifth consecutive month in May, but staffing levels remained well below pre-pandemic readings. Eating and drinking places* added a net 186,000 jobs in May on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

On the state level, restaurant job growth was broad-based in May. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia added restaurant jobs between April and May, leaving Oklahoma as the only state to register an employment decline.

California led the way with a net gain of 40,100 eating and drinking place jobs in May. New York (29,300), Texas (22,400), Pennsylvania (21,100), Massachusetts (16,700) and New Jersey (16,100) also expanded payrolls at a healthy pace in May.

Although nearly every state added restaurant jobs in May, overall staffing levels remained dampened across most of the country. Only 4 states – Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota – have seen restaurant employment return to pre-pandemic levels.

In 3 states and the District of Columbia, restaurant employment was still down more than 20% from the February 2020 level. This group was led by the District of Columbia, which had 41% fewer eating and drinking place jobs in May 2021 than it did in February 2020. Vermont (-24%), Hawaii (-23%), and New York (-22%) were also well below their pre-coronavirus restaurant employment levels.

As of May 2021, California still had 289,300 fewer eating and drinking place jobs than it did in February 2020. Restaurant staffing levels were also well below pre-pandemic readings in New York (-143,300), Florida (-101,700), Illinois (-76,200) and Texas (-55,500).

View the employment data for every state.

[Note: The BLS monthly employment dataset measures jobs during the payroll period that includes the 12th of each month. Changes in restaurant staffing levels – both negative and positive – have occurred rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic, as restaurants quickly adjust their operating status in response to evolving regulatory and economic conditions. As a result, significant changes likely occurred during the weeks between each measurement period, and the monthly data may not fully capture the total job losses experienced during the coronavirus lockdowns. Still, the figures are a useful indication of the extent to which restaurant employment is recovering in each state.] 

*Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the total restaurant and foodservice industry, which prior the coronavirus outbreak employed 12 million out of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce of 15.6 million.

Read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.