Restaurants and catering businesses added 61,000 jobs in March 2022, marking the 15th straight month of job growth in the sector, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But sector employment lags around 819,000 jobs behind February 2020, when the sector came closest to closing the gap between pre-pandemic employment and levels of employment. current jobs.
Elise Gould, a labor economist at the Economic Policy Institute, said hiring is likely to continue to outpace turnover. In February, catering establishments hired approximately 1 million workerswhile nearly 800,000 workers quit their job.
“Employers are finding workers in this sector to hire, so employment is increasing and wage growth continues to rise. Taken together, these are two positive signs for workers in this sector,” Gould said.
“But it seems…likely in foodservice that wages are beating inflation, so workers are seeing some real wage growth,” Gould said.
Despite the pay rise, Zhong Yuan Xu, co-founder and CEO of restaurant technology company Deliverect, pointed to the challenges in bridging the gap between pre-pandemic and current employment levels. Within the broader hospitality sector, which includes restaurants, there are 1 million fewer workers today than in 2019.
“We need to find that one million workers,” Xu said. “So that means every month, for the next 12 months, we have to add the same number of people [as this month] to the leisure catering market to get the same point. It’s a lot of schooling, a lot of people being convinced with their current jobs to go into the restaurant business.”
Anthony Advincula, director of communications at Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, said workers today face the same issues in restaurants they have faced throughout the pandemic: low pay, limited hours, unsafe conditions and a lack of advancement opportunities. Restaurants that address these issues, Advincula noted, are more likely to retain and attract workers.
The ROC, which provides training to workers to help them increase their skills, also helps workers market themselves. According to Advincula, training and skills development can make restaurant jobs more attractive to employees and improve retention by providing workers with career development opportunities.
Advincula said low pay can deter employees from working in restaurants. Wage theft, an endemic problem in low-wage work environments, is particularly detrimental to industry-level retention, he said. The ROC has been instrumental in securing several recent wage theft settlements, which Advincula says could put pressure on companies to improve compensation and comply with labor laws.
Compensation, especially wages, has increased in the restaurant industry. Wages for production and non-supervisory employees in the restaurant business fell from $13.96 per hour in January 2021 to $16.42 in March 2022, a nominal increase of 17%. This growth moderated over the winter, however, as wages fell from December 2021 to January 2022, and inflationary pressures weakened real wage gains.
Wage growth in catering has not contributed significantly to menu price inflation, which was lower than wage increases in the industry, Gould said. Gould attributed the commodity price inflation to bottlenecks and supply chain disruptions, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“When you look at the sectors where you have faster prices [increases]these are not the same sectors where you see faster wage growth,” Gould said. It’s also possible, Gould said, that some of the growth came from tips from increased in-person dining, rather than from employers raising wages.
Still, Xu said, labor and food costs have put pressure on restaurant margins, underscoring the need for labor efficiency. Deliverect offers restaurants a labor-saving way by integrating digital ordering with point-of-sale systems, Xu said, saying such integration could save restaurants hours of labor.
Bill Bellissimo, president of restaurant technology company CrunchTime Information Systems, said labor-saving technology is vital in an increasingly digital environment. Inventory, scheduling and other management tasks are easier areas to save on labor than in the customer-facing parts of the restaurant, Bellissimo told Restaurant Dive in a February interview. .
“Making a supplier order, or creating a sales forecast, or creating a work schedule, there’s a lot of data and calculations in there. Humans can influence that, but computers are really, really good at that,” Bellissimo said. By freeing up labor usually devoted to data-intensive tasks, restaurants can make jobs less stressful for workers while simultaneously improving productivity, according to Bellissimo. This could make working in the restaurant more attractive to potential employees.
Advincula said restaurant workers want to come back, but need to feel able to earn a living in the industry. He said that in his experience at the ROC, smaller or independent restaurants have been more accommodating to employee needs and wants than larger chains.
“Certainly by the end of this year, at this kind of pace, we are going to be back to a full recovery. So the economy will be very much like it was, before the pandemic, with all the inequalities that have been baked in,” Gould said.