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Restaurant job growth returned in March

The industry has added more than 300,000 employees over the past year.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Restaurant hiring rebounded with the weather in March, as the industry added 27,300 jobs during the month and returned to the strong growth it has demonstrated for much of the past five years.

Food services and drinking places employed 12.2 million people in March, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Labor.

The increased hiring was part of a generally strong month for job growth, as the overall economy added 196,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate stayed steady at 3.8%.

Restaurant companies have been hiring at a brisk pace for some time, which has put pressure on operators as labor becomes tough to find.

The tight labor market has forced many operators to raise wages, often well into the teens, to lure workers. Earlier this week, Target Corp. said it would raise its hourly wage to $13 an hour in June, higher than competitor Walmart’s $11. The retailer also promised to increase its starting wage to $15 an hour by 2020.

McDonald’s Corp., meanwhile, waved the white flag on preventing minimum wage hikes, telling the National Restaurant Association that it would stop lobbying against such raises at the state and federal level. One reason: Most of its restaurants already pay an average of $10 an hour.

Restaurants have added 308,700 jobs over the past 12 months, according to federal data. Wages in the leisure and hospitality sector are up 3.7% over the past year—higher than the 3.2% increase for the private sector as a whole.

“Across the board, it’s challenging,” Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti told investors in February, according to a transcript of the presentation on financial services site Sentieo. “And as I’ve said for years, that will be our No. 1 challenge.”

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