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Food Services Employment Returns to Pre-Pandemic Level With 61,000 Gain

waitstaff working at restaurant

The number of people employed in food services and drinking places is back to where it was in the pre-pandemic month of February 2020.

It reached that level with the addition of 61,000 during the month of September, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) said in a Friday (Oct. 6) press release.

Employment in the restaurant industry has gradually returned to the pre-pandemic level with 33 consecutive months of growth, according to analysis by National Restaurant Association Chief Economist Bruce Grindy. That recovery followed the layoffs or furloughs of millions of restaurant employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While the road to recovery was uneven, eating and drinking places have now added more than 6 million jobs since the pandemic trough of restaurant employment in April 2020, Grindy wrote in the analysis. “As of September 2023, eating and drinking places are nearly 30,000 jobs above their February 2020 employment peak.”

This workforce expansion is likely to continue, as there were more than 1 million job openings in the combined restaurants and accommodations sector as of the last day of August, Grindy wrote, citing BLS data.

PYMNTS Intelligence has found that while the easing of restrictions on restaurant dining is fueling resurgent consumer demand, restaurants are finding that hiring and retaining staff is a challenge in the current labor market.

Nearly half of restaurants are having trouble hiring and retaining employees, according to the “Restaurant Readiness Index,” a PYMNTS and Paytronix collaboration.

The survey found that 45% of restaurant managers faced difficulty in hiring people to work in the last three months, and 46% had difficulty in retaining employees over the same period.

Buoyed by the gain in jobs among food services and drinking places, the broader leisure and hospitality sector added 96,000 jobs during September — a number that is well above the average monthly gain of 61,000 jobs during the previous 12 months, according to the BLS press release.

Another part of that sector — accommodation — continued its upward trend by adding 16,000 jobs in September but remains below its February 2020 level of employment by 217,000 jobs, or 10.3%, the release said.