April 07, 2023

Restaurants added 50,000 jobs in March

March represented the 27th consecutive month of restaurant payroll gains, bringing the industry within 75,000 jobs of its pre-pandemic peak.

The restaurant industry continued to expand payrolls at a healthy pace in March. Eating and drinking places* added a net 50,300 jobs in March on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The March increase came on the heels of solid gains in January (81,500) and February (60,200). In each month during the first quarter of 2023, eating and drinking places were the private sector’s top job creator.  

March marked the 27th consecutive month of employment gains in the restaurant industry – representing a total increase of more than 2.5 million jobs. That’s 300,000 more jobs than the next closest industry added during the last 27 months (professional and business services – 2.2 million jobs). 

Driven by the steady gains, the restaurant workforce is inching closer to a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels. As of March 2023, eating and drinking places were 75,000 jobs – or 0.6% – below their February 2020 employment peak. 

Fullservice segment has the largest deficit from pre-pandemic staffing levels

The restaurant employment recovery continues to vary significantly by segment. [Note that the segment-level employment figures are lagged by one month, so February is the most current data available.]

The fullservice segment experienced the most job losses during the initial months of the pandemic – and it still has the longest path to recovery. As of February 2023, fullservice restaurant employment levels were 254,000 jobs (or 5%) below pre-pandemic readings in February 2020. 

Employment counts in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment (-36%), foodservice contractor segment (-3%) and catering and mobile foodservice segment (-2%) also remain below their February 2020 levels.

Job losses in the limited-service segments were somewhat less severe during the initial months of the pandemic, as these operations were more likely to retain staff to support their existing off-premises business. As of February 2023, employment at snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars – including coffee, donut and ice cream shops – was 122,000 jobs (or 15%) above February 2020 readings.

Staffing levels in the quickservice and fast casual segments were nearly 53,000 jobs (or 1%) above pre-pandemic levels. Headcounts at bars and taverns were 24,000 jobs (or 6%) above the pre-pandemic peak. 

*Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the total restaurant and foodservice industry, which prior to the coronavirus outbreak employed more than 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.