Restaurant job growth hit 17-year high in 2012

February 7, 2013
In his latest commentary, the National Restaurant Association's Chief Economist Bruce Grindy looks back at 2012 jobs growth and offers projections for 2013. Restaurants added jobs at a strong 3.4 percent rate in 2012, the strongest increase in 17 years. Looking ahead to 2013, job growth in the restaurant industry is projected to outpace the overall economy by a full percentage-point.
The restaurant industry was an engine of growth for the nation's employment recovery in 2012, and the trend is expected to continue in 2013.  Eating and drinking places - the primary component of the restaurant industry which accounts for roughly three-fourths of the total restaurant and foodservice workforce - added jobs at a strong 3.4 percent rate in 2012, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The robust restaurant industry job growth doubled the 1.7 percent gain in total U.S. employment in 2012, and represented the strongest increase since a 3.9 percent gain in 1995.   

This disparity marked the continuation of a long-term trend, with 2012 representing the 13th consecutive year in which restaurant job growth outpaced the overall economy.  In fact, during the last 13 years, the number of eating-and-drinking-place jobs jumped 25 percent, while total U.S. employment rose by only 4 percent.

Job growth within the restaurant industry was broad-based on 2012, with several of the major segments registering strong gains.  Snack and nonalcoholic beverage bars - including coffee, donut and ice cream shops - set the pace with a robust 4.9 percent employment gain.  Foodservice contactors (4.8 percent), quickservice restaurants (4.1 percent) and fullservice restaurants (3.0 percent) also added jobs at rates well above the overall economy in 2012.   

Looking ahead to 2013, job growth in the restaurant industry is projected to remain solid, albeit somewhat slower than the torrid pace registered in 2012.  The National Restaurant Association expects restaurants to add jobs at a 2.7 percent rate in 2013, a full percentage-point above the projected 1.7 percent gain in total U.S. employment.   

The projected 2013 gain will represent the 14th consecutive year in which restaurant industry job growth outpaces the overall economy, and the third consecutive year in which the industry registered job growth in excess of 2.5 percent.  In comparison, the overall economy hasn't posted job growth above 2.5 percent since 1998.   

With the release of the February 1 jobs report, BLS included revisions that gave a clearer picture of employment trends during and after the recession.  Restaurant employment fell 3.9 percent during the recession, while the overall economy lost 6.3 percent of its employment base.   

The restaurant industry was certainly not immune from the effects of the Great Recession, with job losses in 2009 and 2010 representing just the second and third years on record that the industry cut staffing levels.   

However, the restaurant industry bounced back quickly after the recession, with January's employment level up 8.8 percent from the bottom of the cycle.  In comparison, total U.S. employment is only up 4.3 percent from the recession trough.    

Overall, restaurant employment currently stands 441,000 jobs above its high-point before the recession, while the overall economy is still down 3.2 million jobs from the pre-recession peak.