Oct 10, 2023 - Economy

Restaurant employment is back to pre-COVID levels

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics via FRED; Chart: Axios Visuals

The restaurant industry is back — sort of.

Driving the news: Employment levels in food services and bars finally crept past February 2020 levels, according to the latest jobs report.

  • Yes, but: That's below the pre-pandemic trend. Were it not for the pandemic, employment would be more than 1 million higher, explains Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

Zoom in: Prior to 2020, this was an industry growing at an "exceptional" pace, she says. But the disruptions of COVID were monumental.

Be smart: Dining out has changed. The shift to remote work has disrupted dining-out patterns. Lunchtime is different in a lot of downtowns.

  • And other customer habits are shifting — limited service restaurants, think fast-casual, have seen growth. Employment there rose by about 117,000 between February 2020 and August, according to the latest available government data.
  • But full-service restaurants have seen employment fall by 212,000 over the same period.

The bottom line: Given all the disruptions, the industry's recovery is almost "miraculous," Pollak says.

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