The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced on Friday (June 4) that total U.S. jobs grew by 559,000 during May. One-third of all job growth came from food services and drinking places (i.e., restaurants and bars), with these accounting for 186,000 new jobs. The category’s 10.8 million jobs at the end of May marked a 2 percent month-over month-increase, and 38 percent over last year.
The National Restaurant Association points out, however, that the total count remains at 1.5 million jobs, 12 percent below the pre-pandemic amount. While quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and fast-casual eateries are only 3 percent below February 2020 staffing levels, and coffee and snack shops are only 4 percent below, other types of restaurants have been harder hit. Full-service restaurants are down 14 percent, bars are down 25 percent, catering is down 32 percent and buffets are down a whopping 58 percent. (No surprise that the notoriously germ-filled dining model has been hardest hit, as lingering contagion concerns keep consumers cautious. It remains to be seen whether buffets as we know them will come back in the months or years to come.)
“The pandemic has changed us,” David Litchman, founder of contactless ordering platform BellyMelly, told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “We are all cautious of what we touch, what we breathe and what we do. So, anything that promotes a contact-free environment will be a successful strategy for most businesses.”
Still, overall, the job growth is good news for the restaurant industry. This figure may be a promising indication of how the the overall recovery will trend. The National Restaurant Association noted, “Historically, the availability of labor in April and May had a direct impact on the ultimate size of the restaurant industry’s summer workforce.”
The news of this job growth comes amid reports that restaurants are finding ways to operate with leaner staff. Specifically, about half of restaurants are currently operating with 20 percent less staff than in pre-pandemic times. For many restaurants, this does not just mean maintaining a smaller-than-pre-COVID staff to fulfill the same number of orders as before — it may mean fewer people to fulfill significantly more orders.
“Part of the labor shortage is also driven by digital orders, which grew tremendously during the pandemic and aren’t going away,” Clayton Wood, CEO at kitchen automation company Picnic, told PYMNTS in an interview. “So digital orders means that you can get many, many more orders instantaneously than you could ever get with a walk-in, a call-in or a sit-down customer base.”
Restaurants are offering higher wages and even and signing bonuses to draw in potential workers For instance, Chipotle is offering free college tuition for employees working at least 15 hours a week after four months on the job. Applebee’s offered free appetizers on its National Hiring Day to any job candidate who came in for an interview, a program it called “Apps for Apps.” Restaurants at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT are offering $1,000 signing bonuses. A report from wages advocacy group One Fair Wage said that 76 percent of workers who have left the industry have done so because of low pay, and a Joblist report found that 45 percent of former hospitality workers are looking for office jobs, while 29 percent are looking to move into retail.