December marked the continuation of a downward slide in restaurant business conditions. After reaching a pandemic-era peak in September, restaurant sales trended sharply lower during the final three months of the year. The bottom also fell out for restaurant employment in December, as plunging sales forced operators to cut nearly 400,000 jobs.

On the state level, job-losers outnumbered job-gainers by a significant margin in December. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia lost restaurant jobs between November and December, while only 8 states saw employment levels increase.

California lost a net 85,800 eating and drinking place jobs in December, which was by far the largest drop among the states that experienced employment declines. Michigan (-46,600), New York (-33,000) and Minnesota (-32,800) also shed a significant number of restaurant jobs in December.

Overall, restaurant employment in 46 states and the District of Columbia remained below February’s pre-coronavirus level. In 15 states and the District of Columbia, restaurant employment was still down more than 25% from February.

Vermont (-45%), Michigan (-44%), Minnesota (-38%), the District of Columbia (-35%), Oregon (-34%) and New York (-34%) have the largest deficits from their pre-coronavirus staffing levels.

Only three states – Mississippi, Indiana and Oklahoma – had more eating and drinking place jobs in December than they did in February.

Idaho had approximately the same number of eating and drinking place jobs in December as it did in February.

View the employment data for every state.

[It’s important to note that the BLS monthly employment reports count 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.