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Monthly-Restaurant-Jobs-December-2023.jpg Photo courtesy of the National Restaurant Association
Monthly job gains for the industry in 2023.

Restaurant industry ends 2023 with 31K more jobs than its pre-pandemic peak

December’s gain of 22,100 jobs was the strongest month for the industry since September in an overall bumpy 2023.

The restaurant industry continues to move further and further away from its historic labor crisis of 2021 and early 2022. According to data released Friday morning from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, restaurants and bars added 22,100 jobs in December for a total of 12.4 million employees.

December was the strongest month for the industry since September in an overall bumpy 2023 for job recovery. For context, 13,300 jobs were gained in November and the industry lost 2,000 jobs in October. Despite the bumpiness, industry employment levels now exceed pre-pandemic levels. On the year, nearly 300,000 jobs were added during 2023 versus 246,000 jobs added in 2019. And, as of December, eating and drinking places were 31,000 jobs higher than their February 2020 employment peak, according to the National Restaurant Association.

More hiring expected

Still, a majority of restaurant operators – 88% – are expected to hire additional employees in the next six to 12 months, according to a recent survey from the association. That includes both limited-service operators (89%) and full-service operators (87%).

Conversely, 54% of operators said they would be likely to lay off employees in the next six to 12 months if business conditions deteriorate and the U.S. economy slips into a recession. Most experts believe a soft landing or mild recession is possible in 2024.

That said, 62% of operators plan to expand payrolls to meet more demand for labor, as restaurants juggle higher volumes and more channels. In December, wages rose 4.1% versus the same period last year. The combined low unemployment rate and wage growth has been credited for driving sales at restaurants despite stubbornly high menu prices.  

Overall, the economy added about 216,000 jobs during December, maintaining the unemployment rate at 3.7% and exceeding most economists’ expectations. By comparison, there were 173,000 jobs gained in November. On the year, employers added 2.7 million jobs in 2023.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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