The restaurant industry is slowly crawling out of its pandemic hole.
Restaurants added 175,800 jobs in March, according to federal data released on Friday, and now employ more people than at any point since the start of the pandemic more than one year ago.
To be sure, it remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Restaurants employed 10.5 million people in March, up from 10.3 million in February. But that is still down more than 1 million workers from March of 2020 and 1.8 million workers from February 2020—before dining room closures devastated the industry and led to widespread furloughs and layoffs.
The industry has added some 4.2 million jobs since last April, when the industry employed just 6.3 million workers—a rate that was lower than any point in the past 30 years.
Restaurants have shifted into a heavy hiring mode of late as states have reopened dining rooms and consumers spending stimulus checks have eaten out a lot more—restaurant operators have reported sales exceeding pre-pandemic levels in recent weeks.
That has led to broader complaints about the difficulty in finding workers. Numerous operators say they’ve struggled to find employees who have little need to go back to work because of federal stimulus payments and unemployment checks. Immigration issues, a diminished number of teen workers and fear of the coronavirus have also played a role. The competition for labor has increased wages everywhere from fast-food chains to higher-end restaurants, with wages past $15 an hour increasingly common. A Chick-fil-A in California was recently advertising for workers at $18 an hour.
Still, the overall economy is hiring more people, too. The economy added 916,000 jobs in March and the unemployment rate fell to 6%. While leisure and hospitality businesses, including restaurants and hotels, helped lead the job gains, overall job growth was widespread, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.