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The restaurant industry continues to experience employment growth.

The restaurant industry added over 28K jobs in March

As of March 2024, eating and drinking places were 37,000 jobs above their February 2020 peak, driven by the quick-service segment.

Unemployment data released Friday from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the U.S. economy continued to boom in March, with 303,000 total jobs added and unemployment levels falling to 3.8%.

Restaurants also continued positive hiring trends, adding 28,300 jobs in March, compared to a net gain of 41,600 jobs in February, which marked the strongest increase in over a year. The industry added an average of 30,000 monthly during the first 10 months of 2023 before slowing a bit in November and December and turning slightly negative in January.  According to the National Restaurant Association, despite choppy employment trends in recent months, the industry workforce remains above its pre-pandemic levels. As of March 2024, eating and drinking establishments were 37,000 jobs above their February 2020 peak.

That said, employment disparities are rampant between segments and markets. The full-service segment – which experienced the most job losses during the throes of the pandemic – has not fully recovered, with and is about 248,000 jobs (4%) below February 2020 levels. Further, the employment level in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment is 32% below February 2020 levels.

The limited-service segment continues to drive most of the industry’s overall recovery. In the snack/non-alcoholic beverage concept segment, job levels are about 14% higher than February 2020 levels. Quick-service and fast casual segments are about 140,000 jobs (3%) above pre-pandemic levels. Bars and taverns are about 6% above the February 2020 peak.

Further, just 24 states are above pre-pandemic employment levels. Nevada and Utah have experienced the biggest gains (12% each), followed by Montana (9%) and Idaho (8%). Conversely, Maryland, Louisiana, Vermont, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Main, and Illinois remain below their pre-pandemic restaurant employment levels, according to the National Restaurant Association.

After a relatively robust 2023, job growth is expected to slow this year despite the industry’s forecast to surpass $1 trillion in sales this year for the first time. The association expects 200,000 additional jobs to be added throughout the duration of this year, which is about a third of the 600,00 jobs added last year.

“Looking ahead to this year and beyond, the fragmentation of the industry overall will continue. There are almost 70 segments of the industry we look at when we roll up to that $1 trillion level and they are entirely different operating models. You have that fragmentation on one hand and then the different macroeconomic differences in regions, states, and metro areas in the same state,” Hudson Riehle, SVP of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group, said during a recent interview. “In general, the industry likes to see population growth, which coincides with employment growth and that translates into income growth and stronger restaurant sales growth. Industry growth will definitely be more modest than in 2023, but it will still be positive growth.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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