August 07, 2020

Restaurant job growth slowed significantly in July

The restaurant industry continued along its long road to recovery in July, albeit at a much slower pace than the previous two months. Eating and drinking places* added a net 502,000 jobs in July on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In what would typically be a record-breaking payroll expansion in normal times, July’s half-million employment gain represented a significant slowdown from the 1.5 million jobs added in both May and June. As a result, employment at eating and drinking places remains well below February’s pre-coronavirus level of 12 million. 

Looking forward, restaurant job growth will likely be uneven in the coming months, due to the uncertainty associated with spiking COVID-19 case levels and the potential for renewed restrictions in many parts of the country.

[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.] 

Staffing levels are rising across most segments

Although employers across most of the major restaurant segments added jobs in May and June, their distance from pre-coronavirus staffing levels varies significantly. [Note that the segment-level employment figures are lagged by one month, so June is the most current data available.]

The fullservice segment added more than 2 million jobs in May and June, which is more than the other major restaurant segments combined. However, the gain was only a little over half of the jobs that the segment lost in March and April. 

Job losses in the limited-service segments were less severe during the lockdowns, as these operations were more likely to retain staff to handle off-premises traffic. The quickservice and fast casual segments added more than 641,000 jobs in May and June, after shedding nearly 1 million jobs during the previous two months. 

Snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars – including coffee, donut and ice cream shops – added 284,600 jobs in May and June. This followed a loss of more than 400,000 jobs during March and April.  

Among the major restaurant segments, only food service contractors continued to cut jobs in both May and June, according to BLS.

*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.