Total restaurant industry jobs

Restaurant job growth was uneven in recent months

Restaurant employment registered a modest gain in April, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Eating and drinking places* added a net 6,600 jobs in April on a seasonally-adjusted basis. That came on the heels of stronger gains in February (25,100) and March (28,500).

Although April represented the third consecutive increase in restaurant jobs, growth was uneven in recent months. On average during the last 6 months, eating and drinking places added less than 8,000 jobs each month. That compares to an average monthly gain of more than 27,000 jobs during the previous 6 months (May 2023 to October 2023).       

Despite the recent slowdown, the trendline remains modestly positive, which means the industry workforce continues to expand beyond pre-pandemic levels. As of April 2024, eating and drinking places were 40,000 jobs (or 0.3%) above their February 2020 employment peak.  

Fullservice segment still down nearly 240k jobs 

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 March 2024, fullservice restaurant employment levels were 240,000 jobs (or 4%) below pre-pandemic readings in March 2020. 

Employment counts in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment (-32%) also remained below their March 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 March 2024, employment at snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars – including coffee, donut and ice cream shops – was 115,000 jobs (or 14%) above March 2020 readings.

Staffing levels in the quickservice and fast casual segments were 148,000 jobs (or 3%) above pre-pandemic levels. Headcounts at bars and taverns were 28,000 jobs (or 6%) above the pre-pandemic peak.

[Note that the segment-level employment figures are lagged by one month, so March is the most current data available.]

Restaurant employment trends vary across states

Restaurant employment trended higher in recent months, but the extent of the industry’s workforce recovery varies significantly by state. As of March 2024, 20 states and the District of Columbia still had fewer eating and drinking place jobs than they did in March 2019. 

This group was led by Vermont, which had 9% fewer eating and drinking place jobs in March 2024 than it did in March 2019. Maryland (-8%), Hawaii (-7%), the District of Columbia (-7%), North Dakota (-6%) and Louisiana (-6%) were also well below their pre-pandemic restaurant employment levels.

As of March 2024, eating and drinking place employment in 30 states surpassed their comparable pre-pandemic readings in March 2019. This group was led by Utah (+15%), Nevada (+15%), Montana (+12%) and Idaho (+12%). 

View the latest employment data for every state.

[Note that the state-level analysis uses March 2019 as the pre-pandemic comparison instead of February 2020, because seasonally-adjusted employment figures are not available.] 

Demand for employees remains solid

Restaurant job growth slowed somewhat in recent months, but the recent uptick in job openings suggests the demand for employees remains solid. There were just over 1 million job openings in the combined restaurants and accommodations sector on the last business day of March, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). 

That represented the 3rd consecutive monthly increase and the first time since September 2023 that job openings topped 1 million. Despite the recent increase, openings remained well below the record highs of more than 1.5 million openings registered in several months during 2021 and 2022.

Another recent labor market development is that restaurant operators appear to be having more success keeping the employees that they have.

During the last 6 months, an average of 4.7% of employees in the combined restaurants and accommodations sector quit their jobs, according to BLS. That was more than a full percentage point below the average monthly quit rate of 5.8% during 2021 and 2022. 

It was also slightly below 2019’s average monthly quit rate of 4.9%, which is an indication that the industry’s labor market may be normalizing.

Note: The job openings and quits data 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 account for nearly 90% of jobs in the combined sector.

*Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the total restaurant and foodservice industry, providing jobs for roughly 80% of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce of 15.5 million.

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