Three Years After Covid Hit, Restaurants Are Still Desperate for Workers

Savage Premium Subscription

Americans are rushing back to restaurants after staying away during the pandemic. To catch that demand, chains are opening thousands of new locations. It has the makings of a boom, except for one glaring problem: there aren’t enough workers.

Three years after Covid hit the US, the $900 billion US foodservice industry still can’t recruit enough employees. It has boosted pay and benefits, but that hasn’t worked. Chains including Jack in the Box Inc. and Domino’s Pizza Inc. say the labor woes are hurting business. In a recent survey, more than 60% of establishments said they’re understaffed.

Like much of the US labor market at the moment, the picture that official data paint of the restaurant industry can look contradictory. On one hand, foodservice employment levels are approaching where they were in early 2020 and the number of restaurants is still below pre-pandemic counts, implying there are plenty of workers to go round. Yet for every two job openings in foodservice, there’s only one unemployed person to potentially fill the gap, and job openings spiked to 1.7 million in December.

The strong employment numbers don’t account for sales growth that’s fueling a need for extra workers, said Anna Zhou, an economist at Bank of America (NYSE:) Institute who follows labor market trends. US restaurant and bar sales are projected to increase about 6% this year to nearly $1 trillion, according to the National Restaurant Association.