Despite the recent gains, eating and drinking places are still 1.8 million jobs below their pre-pandemic employment level. Restaurants continued to restore some of the jobs lost during the pandemic in March, but the road to recovery remains long. Eating and drinking places* added a net 175,800 jobs in March on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). March represented the third consecutive monthly employment increase, and lifted restaurant staffing levels to their highest point during the pandemic. Despite the recent positive trend, eating and drinking place employment remains 1.8 million jobs – or 15% – below pre-pandemic levels. Although staffing levels rebounded from pandemic lows in each of the major restaurant segments, overall employment remains well below pre-coronavirus readings across the board.
The full service segment suffered the most job losses during the initial months of the pandemic – and still has the longest path to recovery. As of February 2021, full service restaurant staffing levels were over 1.1 million jobs (or 20%) below pre-coronavirus readings in February 2020.
Job losses in the limited-service segments were somewhat less severe during the initial months of the pandemic, as these operations were more likely to retain staff to support their existing off-premises business. As of February 2021, the quick service and fast casual segments were down 248,000 jobs (or 6%) from pre-pandemic levels. Staffing at snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars – including coffee, donut and ice cream shops – remain 79,000 jobs (or 10%) below February 2020 levels.
In percentage terms, employment in the cafeterias/grill buffets/buffets segment is still 62% below pre-pandemic levels – by far the largest deficit among the major restaurant categories. Staffing levels in the catering and mobile foodservice segment (-44%), foodservice contractor segment (-39%) and bars and taverns segment (-33%) are also significantly below pre-coronavirus readings.
*Eating and drinking places are the primary component of the total restaurant and foodservice industry, which prior to the coronavirus outbreak employed 12 million out of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce of 15.6 million.