July 07, 2021

Restaurant employment recovery continued as openings hit a record high

Restaurant employment continued along the long road to recovery in June. Eating and drinking places* added a net 194,300 jobs in June on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

June was the sixth consecutive month of staffing growth, which translated to an increase of more than 1 million jobs during the first half of 2021. Despite the steady gains, eating and drinking places were still nearly 1.3 million jobs – or 10% – below pre-pandemic employment levels.

Job openings are at a record high

It’s not for a lack of trying that restaurant employment remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, help wanted signs are more plentiful now than at any other point in recent history.

The restaurants-and-accommodations sector had 1.2 million job openings on the last business day of May, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover (JOLTS) data from BLS. That was nearly double the number of openings reported in January, and represented the highest monthly reading since the JOLTS data series began in 2000.

Restaurants certainly have plenty of competition for employees right now. Overall, the economy had a record 9.2 million job openings on the last business day of May. In addition to the hospitality sector’s 1.2 million openings, other industries reporting elevated vacancies included professional and business services (1.5 million), health care and social assistance (1.5 million), retail (974,000) and manufacturing (814,000).

Note: The JOLTS figures presented above are for the broadly-defined Accommodations and Food Services sector (NAICS 72), because the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report data for restaurants alone.

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

[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. Based on surveys of restaurant operators, the National Restaurant Association estimates that more than 8 million eating and drinking place employees were laid off or furloughed during the peak of the lockdowns.] 

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