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National Restaurant Association - Economist's Notebook: Examining the latest trends in restaurant employee hours

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Economist's Notebook: Examining the latest trends in restaurant employee hours

In his latest commentary, the National Restaurant Association's Chief Economist Bruce Grindy analyzes the latest trends in restaurant employee hours.  Although overall employee hours at eating and drinking places leveled off in recent months, the trends are mixed across business sizes.

After registering steady gains in recent years as the economy was recovering from the Great Recession, the average workweek of restaurant employees leveled off in 2013.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average weekly hours worked by all eating and drinking place employees edged down 0.3 percent on a year-to-date basis through November 2013.  This came on the heels of solid 1.2 percent and 1.6 percent gains in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Recent trends in restaurant hours were similar to that of the overall private sector, where the average workweek dipped 0.1 percent on a year-to-date basis through November. 

However, a look at more granular data reveals some divergent trends within the restaurant industry, according to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey.  Each month in this nationwide survey of restaurant operators, panelists are asked if the average number of hours worked by employees in their business increased, decreased, or stayed about the same, compared to the same month in the previous year. 

On average during the six most recent months of Tracking Survey data (June – November), only 13 percent of multi-unit operators said their average employee workweek expanded, while 36 percent said their employees worked fewer hours on average.  In contrast, 22 percent of single-unit operators said they increased employee hours, while 21 percent said their average employee workweek declined.

Average weekly hours are typically a leading indicator of turns in the business cycle, because employers would rather decrease (or increase) the hours of existing employees before they make the decision to cut (or add) jobs.  However, eating and drinking places added jobs at a solid 3.3 percent in 2013, which suggests that the current hiring cycle remains on a positive trajectory. 

Most of this job growth is driven by multi-unit operators, who are adding new employees as they expand their businesses.  However, the recent trends in average employee hours suggest that they are bringing on a higher proportion of part-time workers.   

Read more from the Economist’s Notebook and get additional analysis of restaurant industry trends on Restaurant TrendMapper (subscription required).

Average Employee Hours vs. Same Period in Previous Year
Average Tracking Survey responses from last six months (June – November 2013)

Source: National Restaurant Association, Restaurant Industry Tracking Survey

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