There are fewer servers than before the pandemic. But they make higher wages. / Photo: Shutterstock.
Restaurants and bars remain about 87,000 jobs short of pre-pandemic levels, or less than 1% of the jobs they had in February 2020. The industry has been slowly adding positions in the months since then.
But what types of jobs they’ve added back have been different. According to a new report from Chef’s Pencil, the types of jobs in the industry are considerably different. The report uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Restaurants are adding more cooks and employing fewer servers. And fast-food jobs have, perhaps surprisingly, not yet recovered from the pandemic.
The data suggests that operators are focused more on the business of making food and less on serving it. Takeout has become more prevalent in the industry, both through the recovery of fast-food and fast-casual restaurants and as more full-service restaurants devote energy to food being sent out the door. Third-party delivery and the rise of ghost kitchens also shift more of the focus to food production and less on service.
According to the report, the number of cooks increased by more than 100,000 between 2019 and 2022.
But food and beverage serving workers are down by nearly 1.2 million over that same period. And the number of waiters and waitresses is down 18%.
The bigger surprise is the number of fast-food and counter-service employees, which declined 17% in 2022 from 2019—despite otherwise strong sales. That might suggest operators have learned to live with fewer workers, or they’re giving people more hours. Or perhaps some combination of both.
That said, the report notes that fast-food jobs were in decline before the pandemic, and this might be a continuation, or an acceleration, of that trend.
That said, those workers are making a lot more money. According to the report, restaurant workers of all kinds were among those that have had the largest wage gains since the start of the pandemic.
Wait staff and bartenders—despite the overall decline in employment—have seen their wages jump 23%. Fast-food workers’ wages are up 21%.
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