June 19, 2020

Restaurant employment rose in all 50 states and DC in May

In a sign that the worst of the coronavirus-induced recession is behind us, restaurants across the country are starting to boost staffing levels. As restaurant sales begin to recover from multi-decade lows, employees are being rehired.

Nationally, eating and drinking places* added approximately 1.4 million jobs in May, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While that was nearly three times more job gains than the next closest industry in May, it still left restaurant staffing levels well below the pre-coronavirus peak.

On the state level, Texas led the way with a net increase of 185,800 eating and drinking place jobs in May, according to BLS. Florida (+118,300), California (+95,500) and New York (+58,600) all posted solid growth, while Tennessee (+53,700) registered the fifth-most employment gains in May.

View the employment data for every state.

In percentage terms, Rhode Island and Montana saw their eating and drinking place employment levels jump 55 percent between April and May. North Dakota, New Hampshire and Alaska all registered restaurant job growth of more than 40 percent in May.

At the other end of the spectrum, California, Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico and the District of Columbia had eating and drinking place job growth of roughly 10 percent in May.

Despite the May bounce, restaurant staffing levels in every state remain well below their pre-coronavirus levels. That’s because the pandemic dug such a deep hole for the industry, with every state losing at least 28 percent of its restaurant workforce. 

States in the northeast were the hardest hit. Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire and New Jersey all lost more than 60 percent of their eating and drinking place jobs between February and April.

While the May job growth is a positive sign, it only marks the beginning of a painfully long road to recovery for the restaurant industry. Indeed, two-thirds of restaurant operators do not expect their staffing levels to return to pre-coronavirus levels by the end of the year.

On average across the states, eating and drinking place employment levels were still nearly 40 percent down from their February readings. Some states in the northeast like Vermont (-64%), New York (-58%), the District of Columbia (-56%), Delaware (-55%) and Massachusetts (-53%) have an even steeper climb to get back to their pre-coronavirus restaurant staffing levels.

[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.