The restaurant industry creates 108,000 jobs in January

Food places added 108,000 jobs in January, on top of a recent big jump in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There were 11.38 million workers on the payroll during the month, up from 11.27 million in December, when around 103,000 jobs were added. The industry is still around 900,000 down from February 2020, just before the pandemic.

Overall, the United States added 467,000 jobs, with 25% in food services and drinking places. The results exceeded economists’ expectations, in particular due to the expected impact of the rise in Omicron business. However, the results appear to be in line with what some of the larger restaurant chains have reported.

In late January, McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said only 1% of U.S. stores were operating with limited hours, an improvement from 10% in mid-December. Additionally, the fast-food giant ended 2021 with a bigger job slate than at the start. About 80% of dining rooms are open and the CEO believes that number will continue to grow. In the casual dining segment, Wyman Roberts, CEO of Chile said restaurants had more employees per store than before COVID. Managers now receive 10 applications at a time, instead of two or three.

However, the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC) makes it clear that restaurants as a whole are still struggling to regain their pre-pandemic status. According to the organization, the unemployment rate among leisure and hospitality workers is 8.2%, double the US rate.

“When people working in leisure and hospitality are more than twice as likely to be unemployed, it’s hard to say the economy is booming,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent. Restaurant Coalition, in a press release. “More than 90,000 restaurants have closed during the pandemic, taking with them hundreds of thousands of jobs. This industry employs more than a million single mothers, is America’s favorite first job, and offers more leadership positions to people of color than any other industry.”

The IRC recently found in a survey of nearly 1,200 independent restaurant and bar operators that 42% of businesses that have not received Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) grants are in bankruptcy risk. Of that same group, 49% have been forced to lay off workers due to the growth in Omicron cases. In another survey, the National Restaurant Association found that nearly half of restaurants that did not receive RRF grants do not feel confident about surviving the pandemic without more help.

Nearly 300,000 restaurants and bars applied for $28.6 billion in RRF grants, but only one in three applicants received relief.

“The Restaurant Revitalization Fund has helped more than 100,000 restaurants recoup the losses they racked up in the first year of the pandemic and helped them avoid laying off staff,” Polmar said. “If Congress doesn’t restart this relief program soon, restaurants that need help will be forced to make tough choices that will cost thousands more people their jobs.”

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Cecil N. Messick