- Food services and drinking places gained 186,000 jobs in May, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, an increase from the 167,500 jobs the industry added in April.
- Over the past five months, the industry hired a net of 830,000 employees, according to the National Restaurant Association. This is equal to the number of restaurant jobs added in the 42 months prior to the pandemic.
- While the industry has deployed various tactics to boost hiring — including mass recruitment events, social media campaigns and on-the-spot interviews — restaurants are still 1.5 million jobs, or 12%, below pre-pandemic employment levels, according to the NRA.
Many restaurant owners blame the labor crisis on the additional unemployment benefits that have been available for the better part of the year. Some states are now requiring unemployed workers to provide proof of their job search to continue to receive benefits, which could help bring more people back into the restaurant workforce. Safety concerns remain a major obstacle for workers, some experts argue, as well as low wages and tips in the industry. Several chains, including Chipotle, Darden, McDonald's and Starbucks, have been moving toward higher hourly wages, however.
Full-service restaurants made some of the biggest labor gains in the past year, adding 2.8 million jobs between April 2020 and April 2021, according to NRA's analysis, but the segment is still 14%, or 750,000 jobs, below pre-pandemic levels. FSRs have been struggling to keep pace with increased diner demand, coupled with a robust off-premise market that grew in 2020. A majority of these operators are particularly understaffed in their back-of-houses, with cooks highly sought after industrywide. Customers have also complained about declines in cleanliness and long wait times even when the dining room doesn't seem very busy.
Quick-service restaurants and fast casuals have filled more vacancies than FSRs, with the segment's jobs down only 143,000 (3%) compared to pre-pandemic levels. These chains are looking to hire thousands of employees, especially as summer looms, and many have been successful in attracting new workers. Chipotle, which hosted a hiring event in January to fill 15,000 positions, ended up adding 13,000 to its staff. IHOP is eyeing a goal of 10,000 new employees, while Whataburger wanted to fill 50,000 positions earlier this year. Even Chuck E. Cheese, which endured a bankruptcy in 2020, is hoping to bring on 5,000 new people this summer. Subway, Sonic and KFC are hiring in the tens of thousands as well.
Staffing in the cafeteria and buffet segment is down 58% compared with pre-pandemic levels, an unsurprising decline given this restaurant segment was the hardest hit by the pandemic. Souplanation's parent company Garden Fresh Restaurants declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy early in the pandemic, while Fresh Acquisitions, owner of Old Country Buffet, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. Some of the buffet chains that are still hanging on have completely changed their models. Golden Corral, for example, reopened its dining rooms last May without its signature buffet and now offers a "We Serve You" buffet, where staff serve guests so customers don't touch previously shared utensils.