Restaurants added 187k jobs in April

Restaurant employment continued to trend higher in April, but staffing levels remained well below normal for most operations. Eating and drinking places* added a net 187,000 jobs in April on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

April marked the fourth consecutive month of payroll growth – representing a net increase of more than 645,000 jobs. While the trendline is pointing in the right direction, eating and drinking places are still 1.7 million jobs (or 14%) below pre-pandemic levels.

Employee counts remain below normal in every segment

On an individual restaurant level, employee counts remained well below normal in April. Overall, 84% of operators said their staffing levels were lower than what they would normally be in the absence of COVID-19, according to a National Restaurant Association survey fielded April 1-14. Forty-seven percent of restaurants were more than 20% below normal staffing levels in April.

A strong majority of operators in each of the major restaurant segments said their staffing levels remained dampened in April. Only 1 in 10 fullservice operators said their restaurant was at or above normal staffing levels in April. A majority of them were more than 20% below normal. 

Limited-service operators were only somewhat more likely to say that they are fully staffed. Thirty-two percent of coffee and snack operators and 1 in 5 quickservice and fast casual operators said their employee counts were at or above normal levels in April.

A long road back to normal

Looking further down the road, most restaurant operators do not expect a return to normal staffing any time soon. Among restaurant operators that are currently below normal staffing levels, 28% think it will be 7-12 months before staffing levels return to normal for their restaurant. Twenty percent of operators think it will take more than a year to return to normal staffing levels, while 10% say staffing levels will never return to normal for their restaurant.

Expectations for a gradual return to normal are generally consistent across the major restaurant segments. A majority of fullservice, quickservice and fast casual operators think it will be at least 6 months before staffing levels return to normal for their restaurant.

[Note: The BLS monthly employment dataset measures jobs during the payroll period that includes the 12th of each month. Changes in restaurant staffing levels – both negative and positive – have occurred rapidly during the coronavirus pandemic, as restaurants quickly adjust their operating status in response to evolving regulatory and economic conditions. As a result, significant changes likely occurred during the weeks between each measurement period, and the monthly data may not fully capture the total job losses experienced during the coronavirus lockdowns. Based on surveys of restaurant operators, the National Restaurant Association estimates that more than 8 million eating and drinking place employees were laid off or furloughed during the peak of the lockdowns.]

*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.

Track more economic indicators and read more analysis and commentary from the Association's chief economist Bruce Grindy.