Total restaurant industry jobs

Restaurants added jobs in 24 consecutive months

Job growth in the restaurant industry continued at a moderate pace in December. Eating and drinking places* added a net 26,300 jobs in December on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

December marked the 24th consecutive month of job growth in the restaurant industry. While the month-to-month gains were uneven during this period, the industry made steady progress toward rebuilding its workforce. In total during the last 24 months, eating and drinking places added nearly 2.2 million jobs. 

Despite the steady employment gains during the last 2 years, eating and drinking places are still 450,000 jobs (or 3.6%) below their pre-pandemic staffing levels. That’s the largest employment deficit among all U.S. industries.   

Help still wanted

Although the industry added back many of the jobs lost during the pandemic, a majority of restaurants remain understaffed. Overall, 62% of operators say their restaurant does not have enough employees to support its existing customer demand, according to a National Restaurant Association survey fielded in November. 

Operators in the fast casual, family dining and casual dining segments were the most likely to say their restaurant does not have enough employees to meet customer demand. 

Regardless of whether they are understaffed, help wanted signs are hanging longer for most restaurants. Overall, 8 in 10 restaurant operators say they currently have job openings that are difficult to fill.   

A strong majority of fullservice, quickservice and fast casual operators say they currently have job openings that are difficult to fill. Roughly one-half of operators in the coffee and snack segment reported similarly.

More hiring expected in 2023, business conditions permitting

Most restaurant operators will be actively looking to boost staffing levels in 2023. Overall, 87% of operators say they will likely hire additional employees during the next 6-12 months if there are qualified applicants available. 

A solid majority of operators across each of the 6 major segments say they will expand payrolls if good resumes come across their desk.  

At the same time, restaurant operators will continue to balance staffing needs with business conditions. Fifty-seven percent of operators say they would be likely to lay off employees during the next 6-12 months if business conditions deteriorate and the U.S. economy goes into recession. 

Workforce recovery remains uneven across segments

Although staffing levels rebounded from pandemic lows in each of the major restaurant segments, overall employment remains below pre-coronavirus readings in most categories. [Note that the segment-level employment figures are lagged by one month, so November is the most current data available.]

The fullservice segment suffered the most job losses during the initial months of the pandemic – and still has the longest path to recovery. As of November 2022, fullservice restaurant staffing levels were 383,000 jobs (or 7%) below pre-coronavirus readings in February 2020. 

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 November 2022, staffing levels at snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars – including coffee, donut and ice cream shops – were 113,000 jobs (or 14%) above February 2020 readings.

Meanwhile, the quickservice and fast casual segments were 50,000 jobs (or 1%) above pre-pandemic levels.

Other segments still have a long road to reach pre-pandemic staffing levels. Employment counts in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment (-34%), foodservice contractor segment (-15%), catering and mobile foodservice segment (-6%) and bars and taverns segment (-5%) are still well below their February 2020 levels.             

Restaurant employment trends vary across states

Restaurant employment trended steadily higher in recent months, but the extent of the industry’s workforce recovery varies significantly by state.

As of November 2022, eating and drinking place employment in 20 states surpassed their comparable pre-pandemic readings in November 2019. This group was led by Nevada (+11%), Texas (+10%) and Utah (+8%).

Thirty states and the District of Columbia still had fewer eating and drinking place jobs in November 2022 than they did in November 2019. This group was led by Vermont, which had 11% fewer eating and drinking place jobs in November 2022 than it did in November 2019. 

Rhode Island (-9%), Alabama (-9%), West Virginia (-8%), New Mexico (-8%) and North Dakota (-8%) were also well below their comparable pre-pandemic restaurant employment levels.     

View the latest employment data for every state. 

*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.

Track more economic indicators and read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.