Skip navigation
Waitress sets out water glasses in restaurant.jpg Reza Estakhrian / The Image Bank / Getty Images
The industry's workforce has finally returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The restaurant industry has finally returned to pre-pandemic employment levels

Despite a return to pre-pandemic employment levels, the restaurants and accommodations sector reports over 1 million job openings.

The U.S. economy added 336,000 jobs in September, much higher than expected, while the unemployment rate remained flat at 3.8%, according to data released Friday morning from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. September marked the highest monthly job total since January, driven in large part by restaurants and bars, which added 60,700 jobs to reach the category’s pre-pandemic level.

September marked the 33rd consecutive month of employment growth in the restaurant industry, according to the National Restaurant Association. The category now has 12.37 million jobs, versus 12.34 million in February 2020, before the domestic onset of Covid. Overall, the leisure and hospitality segment added about 96,000 jobs in September, above the average monthly gain of 61,000 throughout the previous 12 months.

Despite strong federal numbers for September, there are several anecdotes of restaurant concepts across the country closing because of staffing issues. Punxsy Pizza in Punxsutawney, Penn., recently posted on its social media channels that it was short staffed and asked customers to be patient. Louisville’s Come Back Inn, which has been in business for over 20 years, announced its closure earlier this month, citing a staffing shortage. Restaurants from Detroit to San Diego to Idaho have closed throughout the past month due to staffing shortages.

The accommodation sector, or lodging, gained 16,000 jobs on the month, and remains well below its February 2020 level by 217,000 jobs, or 10.3%. Overall, job openings in the combined restaurants and accommodations sector were above 1 million at the end of August, according to a Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. While this is a decrease from record levels reported throughout the past two years, job openings remain elevated versus pre-pandemic numbers. According to Bruce Grindy, chief economist at the National Restaurant Association, there were an average of 875,000 hospitality job openings each month in 2019.

“Using this as a proxy for normal labor market conditions, it means there were still nearly 150,000 job openings above normal in August 2023,” he wrote.

Meanwhile, wages rose less than expected – just 0.2% month-over-month and 4.2% year-over-year. In August, wages were up 4.3% year-over-year.

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.