Total restaurant industry jobs

Restaurant job growth slowed despite elevated openings

The rebuilding of the restaurant workforce continued in April, albeit at a somewhat slower pace compared to recent months. Eating and drinking places* added a net 24,800 jobs in April on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

April’s increase followed moderate gains in February (45,400) and March (28,200) – both of which were revised lower from their preliminary readings.  

April represented the 28th consecutive month of payroll expansion in the restaurant industry. The addition of more than 2.5 million jobs during that period ranked as the economy’s top job creator. The professional and business services sector was the next closest industry, adding 2.2 million jobs during the 28-month period. 

Despite the steady gains, the restaurant workforce has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels. As of April 2023, eating and drinking places were 87,000 jobs – or 0.7% – below their February 2020 employment peak.   

Job openings remain elevated

Although payroll growth slowed in recent months, job openings stood well above pre-pandemic levels. 

On the last business day of March, there were nearly 1.3 million job openings in the combined restaurants and accommodations sector, according to Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) data from BLS. That represented the 23rd consecutive month with at least 1.2 million openings.

Putting that in the context of pre-pandemic readings, there were an average of 875,000 hospitality job openings each month during 2019. Using this as a proxy for normal business conditions, it means there were more than 400,000 job openings above normal in March 2023.

That leaves plenty of runway for continued restaurant employment gains in the months ahead, even if the overall economy continues to slow   

Note: The job openings 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.

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 March 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 March 2023, fullservice restaurant employment levels were 247,000 jobs (or 4%) below pre-pandemic readings in February 2020. 

Employment counts in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment (-36%) and foodservice contractor segment (-1%) 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 March 2023, employment at snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars – including coffee, donut and ice cream shops – was 118,000 jobs (or 15%) above February 2020 readings.

Staffing levels in the quickservice and fast casual segments were 67,000 jobs (or 1%) above pre-pandemic levels. Headcounts at bars and taverns were 25,000 jobs (or 6%) above the pre-pandemic peak.                

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 March 2023, 22 states and the District of Columbia still had fewer eating and drinking place jobs than they did in February 2020. 

This group was led by Maine and Vermont, which had over 10% fewer eating and drinking place jobs in March 2023 than they did in February 2020. Maryland (-9%), Rhode Island (-7%) and West Virginia (-7%) were also well below their pre-pandemic restaurant employment levels.

As of March 2023, eating and drinking place employment in 28 states surpassed their comparable pre-pandemic readings in February 2020. This group was led by Nevada (+13%), Utah (+12%) and Idaho (+11%).

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.