Eating and drinking places* added a net 285,900 jobs in February on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Despite the healthy increase, restaurant staffing levels remain 2 million jobs – or 16% – below pre-coronavirus levels.

On the state level, employment trends were generally positive in February. Forty-three states and the District of Columbia added restaurant jobs between January and February, while only 5 states experienced job losses in the restaurant industry. Restaurant employment was essentially unchanged in New Hampshire and South Dakota.

California added a net 91,400 eating and drinking place jobs in February – tops among the states that expanded payrolls during the month. It also reversed three consecutive months of employment losses in the state.

Michigan (46,200), New York (24,800) and Illinois (22,400) also followed three straight months of job losses with solid gains in February.

Although a majority of states added restaurant jobs in February, employment levels remained below their pre-pandemic readings in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In 3 states and the District of Columbia, restaurant employment was still down at least 30% from the February 2020 level. This group was led by the District of Columbia, which had 50% fewer eating and drinking places jobs in February 2021 than it did in February 2020.

New York (-34%), Hawaii (-32%) and Vermont (-31%) also have significant deficits from their pre-coronavirus staffing levels.

In raw numbers, California leads the way with 418,800 fewer eating and drinking place jobs than it had in February 2020. Restaurant staffing levels are also well below pre-pandemic levels in New York (-219,500), Texas (-131,700), Illinois (-123,300) and Florida (-123,000).

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.